San Diego State vs. Wyoming game preview: Aztecs looking to stay undefeated in league play

Kent Horner

San Diego State is looking to stay undefeated in league play as they travel to Wyoming on Tuesday night.

When: Tuesday, February 11, 8 PST

Where: Arena-Auditorium, Laramie, Wyo.

TV: ESPNU/WatchESPN

Radio: SDSU broadcast is on The Mighty 1090 AM and 105.7 FM The Walrus. Wyoming broadcast is on KQSW 96.5 FM

Last meeting: SDSU rebounded from its 9-point first half performance in Laramie and routed the Cowboys 79-51 in the teams' second meeting last year. Dwayne Polee II and Jamaal Franklin led the offense while the defense held Wyoming to 13 first-half points and 37.7% shooting inside a raucous Viejas Arena.

Over their last three games, the Aztecs have held their opponents to 59.7 points per game. That comes as no surprise for the team that allows the third fewest points per game nationally. The Aztecs shot over 50 percent in two of those three games. Now that's surprising; SDSU barely shot over 40% in its first seven conference games. With their lock down defense and recently clicking offense, the Aztecs are playing their best basketball of the year. A win will give the red-hot Aztecs a school-record 21 wins in a row.

If a few more shots go in, the Wyoming Cowboys are second in the Mountain West, not fifth. Larry Shyatt's squad took New Mexico to overtime twice, and its three other conference losses came by a combined 10 points. The Cowboy defense only allows 3.8 more points per game than the MWC-leading Aztecs. In fact, Wyoming has held a conference opponent to 50 or fewer points twice this season: at Boise State and at UNLV. SDSU Coach Steve Fisher said on Monday that scoring in the mid-60s or even mid-50s against the Cowboys would be a difficult task.

SDSU's key to victory: What's the first thing that pops up in your head when you think of SDSU basketball? Xavier Thames? Athleticism and length? Great depth? Chances are you first thought of defense. Over and over SDSU players say they pride themselves on defense, and it shows up in the box score. SDSU's key to win tonight will be one player's defense: forward J.J. O'Brien. Arguably SDSU's best defender, O'Brien often matches up with the opponent's best player. And he frequently shuts that player down.

For instance, O'Brien held Colorado State's biggest threat, J.J. Avila, to 9 points on 4-17 shooting in SDSU's most recent win against CSU. O'Brien will likely play most of the game opposite Wyoming forward Larry Nance, Jr. Nance, Jr. is having a most-improved-player-like season, nearly averaging a double-double. If O'Brien neutralizes Nance, the Aztecs will win the game. Wyoming's key to victory: The Cowboys stand second to SDSU in another category: home record. Wyoming is 11-2 at the Arena-Auditorium. With the highest elevation in the NCAA (7,220 feet), the Arena-Auditorium provides a significant home court advantage.

If the Cowboys can minimize the gap near the end of the game, home court advantage would give them a real chance to win. They can do this in two ways: make their threes to invigorate the crowd, and withstand SDSU's runs. SDSU puts teams away with soul-crushing scoring runs; they put together a 7-0 run to end the half against Nevada and the Wolf Pack never seriously threatened for the rest of the game. If the Cowboys can eliminate SDSU's three or four possession runs and drain their threes, they can keep the game close in the end and have a shot for the upset.

Prediction: This will be a low-scoring thriller. Three-time MWC player of the week Xavier Thames will lead the Aztecs to a 56-52 victory in Laramie.

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