San Diego State vs. Air Force game preview: Aztecs look to return to winning ways

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

After Tuesday's disappointing loss, the Aztecs return home to face the Air Force Falcons.

Air Force Falcons (10-13, 4-8 MWC) at No. 5 San Diego St. Aztecs (21-2, 10-1 MWC)

When: Saturday, February 15, 8 p.m. ET, 5 p.m. PT

Where: Viejas Arena, San Diego, Calif.

TV: CBS Sports Network

Radio: SDSU broadcast is on The Mighty 1090 AM and 105.7 FM The Walrus. Air Force broadcast is on KVOR 740 AM.

Last meeting: The Falcons nearly upset then-No.13 SDSU when the two met on Jan. 12, 2013, in Colorado Springs. Sophomore guard Tre Coggins scored 29 points, the second highest total of his career, and closed the gap to five within the last minute. On the other side, SDSU junior J.J. O'Brien played his first game without a taped and padded right hand since Dec. 1, 2013. He exploded for 18 points and 11 rebounds and led SDSU to beat the upset-minded Falcons 77-72.

The Aztecs sure don't like Laramie, Wyo. They've lost their last two games at the high-in-the-sky Arena-Auditorium. As a program, SDSU is now 8-26 in Laramie. With the loss, SDSU ends its winning streak at 20 and won't set a school record (you can breathe a sigh of relief, Kawhi Leonard). The loss also begs an interesting question: how far will SDSU drop in the rankings after losing to a team with the 83rd-ranked RPI? Do the Associated Press voters consider Laramie a difficult place to win? The answers to those questions stand out of SDSU's control, but the red-and-black can definitely control how they play tonight in Viejas. Since the beginning of the 2008-2009 season, SDSU is 22-8 following a loss during the regular season.

After starting the MWC season 2-0 with an impressive win at UNLV, Air Force has gone 2-8. In fact, the Falcons had lost seven in a row until they beat San Jose State by three on Wednesday. And they sure don't get any breaks for the rest of conference play: they play the current top six MWC teams in their final six games. Air Force seems to have SDSU's number, though; the Falcons have won two out of the teams' last five meetings. Could you imagine if the Falcons won all six games? Crazier things have happened.

SDSU's key to victory: Everything went wrong in what I like to call SDSU's "Friday the 13th" in Laramie (yes, I know the game fell on neither a Friday nor the 13th). The Aztecs turned the ball over 13 times and made 13 less free throws than the Cowboys shot. Xavier Thames shot 3-16 for 13 points after averaging over 20 per game in conference play. To win tonight's game, the Aztecs must wipe the Wyoming game completely out of their mind and focus on playing SDSU basketball: disciplined offense with defense leading the way.

Air Force's key to victory: Coggins needs to outplay Thames. Thames showed us all that he's human on Tuesday; he can play a bad game. And SDSU really struggles offensively with Thames off his A-game. Coggins averages 37 minutes per conference game; he's played all 40 minutes in two games. Air Force will need another 40-minute performance from Coggins, full of smothering defense on Thames and lights-out shooting. If Coggins outplays Thames, the Falcons have a chance to give SDSU a losing streak.

Prediction: The Aztecs won't lose two in a row and will beat the Falcons 69-55.

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