San Diego, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - The 10th-ranked San Diego State Aztecs put a lengthy 14-game win streak on the line on Saturday evening, as they play host to the UNLV Runnin' Rebels in a Mountain West Conference showdown at the Viejas Arena.
Steve Fisher's Aztecs have found their way into the top 10 with a stellar 15-1 record to this point. Marquee wins along the way include topping Creighton and Kansas. Most recently, the team knocked off Fresno State, 68-60, to improve to 4-0 in MWC action.
Dave Rice's Runnin' Rebels are 11-6 on the season, but have won eight of their last 10 games. The team is 2-2 in conference play, but enters off a hard- fought 76-73 road win at New Mexico. UNLV has been solid outside of the Thomas & Mack Center, sporting a 5-1 record between road and neutral site affairs.
UNLV holds a 35-21 all-time lead in the series with San Diego State, but the Aztecs have won four of the last five meetings at Viejas Arena. Since 2009, SDSU is 9-4 against UNLV.
The Rebels have a solid inside/out game with a deep scoring pool that boasts four of the five starters in double figures. The perimeter game is spearheaded by guards Bryce Dejean-Jones and Kevin Olekaibe. Dejean-Jones leads the team in scoring at 15.0 ppg. Olekaibe is UNLV's resident sniper, amassing a team- best 42 3-pointers and averaging 10.8 ppg. Concentrating defensive efforts along the perimeter would be foolish, as UNLV also has a dominant low post game, headlined by forwards Roscoe Smith (12.0 ppg) and Khem Birch (11.6 ppg). Smith leads the nation in rebounding at 12.5 rpg, while Birch isn't very far behind with his 9.8.
The Rebels used a 20-3 second-half run to take over in Albuquerque, leading to a three-point win at the Pit. Dejean-Jones was 6-of-12 from the floor and 11- of-13 from the free-throw line to lead the team with 23 points. Deville Smith poured in 17 points for UNLV, which also received strong scoring efforts from Olekaibe and Birch, who added 14 and 11 points, respectively. Birch completed a double-double with 11 rebounds.
The Aztecs continued their dominance over schools from the Golden State, posting their 38th straight victory over a California school with the eight- point win over Fresno State last time out. It wasn't the prettiest game from an efficiency standpoint, as SDSU shot a mere .333 from the floor. Xavier Thames was one of the few players for the Aztecs who had a strong shooting performance, drilling 8-of-13 from the floor and 9-of-11 from the free-throw line to lead all scorers with 28 points. Winston Shepard added 17 points in the win, but the rest of the team accounted for just 23 points.
San Diego State is used to modest offensive numbers this season. The team's overall success if fueled by stingy defensive play. The Aztecs are among the nation's top teams in terms of scoring defense (55.9 ppg) and field-goal percentage defense (.358). SDSU also enjoys a positive margin in rebounding (+6.2). Thames leads the team in scoring at a solid 16.9 ppg. Shepard represents the only other Aztec currently in double figures at 13.5 ppg. Josh Davis isn't much of a scoring threat (8.7 ppg), but is among the nation's top rebounders (11.3 rpg).