San Diego State vs. Utah State game preview: Aztecs look to sweep season series

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

After dropping only one spot in the Associated Press Top 25, SDSU looks to keep earning respect with a win against Utah State.

Utah State Aggies (15-10, 5-8 MWC) at No. 6 San Diego St. Aztecs (22-2, 11-1 MWC)

When: Tuesday, February 18, 11 p.m. ET, 8 p.m. PT

Where: Viejas Arena, San Diego, Calif.

TV: ESPNU

Radio: SDSU broadcast is on The Mighty 1090 AM and 105.7 FM The Walrus. Utah State broadcast is on KVNU 610 AM and 102.1 FM.

Last meeting: The Aggies and Aztecs battled back and forth in one of the best MWC conference games this season. No team ever led by more than eight points; there were seven ties and 17 lead changes. "The Hurd," Utah State's student section, and the rest of the 10,127 in attendance at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum sounded like 15,000 strong every time an Aggie hit a shot--and that happened quite frequently. But in the end, SDSU weathered the storm and won 74-69 in double overtime. Xavier Thames scored 10 in overtime. The Aztecs escaped Logan with an impressive win in a hostile environment.

SDSU and the MWC have apparently earned some national respect. The Associated Press voters only dropped the Aztecs, who lost last week to Wyoming, one spot to No. 6 in this week's Top 25. Yes, several other top teams lost last week (Villanova, Michigan State, Arizona, Michigan) and that helped the Aztecs stay in the top 10. However, one aspect of the rankings provides evidence of respect for SDSU and the MWC: Arizona (23-2, 10-2 Pac-12) dropped two spots and the Aztecs dropped one. The Wildcats lost to a very good Pac-12 Arizona State team--voters knocked them more than they knocked the Aztecs. I know many other things factored into Arizona's ranking (like Syracuse, Florida and Wichita State all winning) but to me that seems like some respect for SDSU and the MWC. SDSU looks to keep earning that respect tonight against the Aggies.

Utah State has won three out of its last four, including a win against Boise State and an impressive road win at Colorado State. Unfortunately for Aggie fans, Utah State's recent level of play is too little, too late. At 5-8 in the MWC, the Aggies can't seriously compete for the regular season MWC crown and the top seed in the tournament. But as Steve Fisher said in a press conference yesterday, the Aggies will influence who does win conference with their high level of play and can build momentum for the MWC Tournament. Utah State looks to prove just how good it is by silencing "The Show" at Viejas Arena tonight and hurting SDSU's chances for the MWC Tournament's No. 1 seed.

SDSU's key to victory: Winston Shepard and Dwayne Polee II, 6'8" and 6'7", respectively. Tall, long, fast and strong (didn't even try to rhyme, I promise). SDSU's J.J. O'Brien calls Shepard a "matchup nightmare," and that's especially true for the Aggies. Utah State primarily beats its opponents with set plays and lights out shooters. The Aggies don't really have players that can consistently match up with a 6'8" guy who can drive the lane just as easily as he can pull up for a jumper. In the first matchup between SDSU and Utah State, Shepard got into foul trouble and only played 25 minutes. Polee played poorly and didn't score. These two have been on a tear lately and if they continue to do so, the Aztecs will outmatch the Aggies.

Utah State's key to victory: Utah State came so close to upsetting SDSU earlier this year--and that happened without sophomore Kyle Davis. Davis (6'7", 225 pounds) averages nearly 10 points and eight rebounds a game is the only Aggie who can slow down Shepard and Polee. One could argue that the Aggies were just a play or two away from upsetting SDSU in Logan earlier this year, and Davis could have definitely made those plays. He adds a dimension to Utah State that the Aztecs haven't seen--both on offense and defense. SDSU can watch all the tape on Davis it wants, but nothing compares to actually playing against him. If the Aggies win, Davis will to be their player of the game.

Prediction: The Aztecs will feed off the energy of their home crowd and beat the Aggies 70-61.

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