On Friday night the No. 20 Aztecs prepared for their first Mountain West Conference game on January 1. They did so with a tune-up game against tiny St. Katherine College from nearby Encinitas. The victory was never in jeopardy. The only mystery was how long would the Aztecs starters play and how big would the margin of victory be. For those who are keeping score, the Aztecs won 118-35, and it was their all-time largest margin of victory in Division I.
Winston Shepard returned to the starting lineup after coming off the bench against McNeese State and sitting out the game against Southern Utah. Shepard is a favorable mismatch on defense against nearly every two guard in the country and can break down offenses and get to the rim when the Aztecs have the ball. He was the player of the game with a career-high 21 points, eight rebounds, five assists and five steals.
Dwayne Polee II was impressive in 20 minutes of action off the bench. After missing a couple of games due to illness, Polee returned to score 19 points and a team-leading 12 rebounds. This was his first career double-double. He shot 8-of-11 from the field and made all three of his three-point shots. Aqeel Quinn had another strong showing off the bench, contributing 14 points and six steals.
Josh Davis did not play due to a wisdom teeth procedure. D'Erryl Williams once again sat out with a bad back. J.J. O'Brien returned to the starting lineup after missing the game against McNeese State with a sore and heavily bandaged right hand. He scored five points and pulled down six rebounds. O'Brien hopes to have the bandage removed next week. Dakarai Allen twisted his ankle in the second half and will undergo examination and treatment.
The Aztecs shot especially well from beyond the three-point line, making 14-of-22 or 63.6%. Conversely, the Firebirds made just 3-of-38 for a dismal 7.9%. Their only hope of being competitive was to make a lot of three point shots, so you can't blame them for adopting that approach.
San Diego State extended its winning streak against California schools to 37 and its December home game winning streak to 12. With only four games left against California teams, two each against Fresno State and San Jose State, the Aztecs should end the season with a 41 game win streak intact against California schools.
The schedule will get decidedly tougher in January, as the Aztecs face off against three NCAA tournament teams to start the new year. First up is the game at Colorado State on January 1. San Diego State travels to Lawrence, Kansas to take on the No. 16 Jayhawks on January 5. They complete this cycle with a home game against Boise State on January 8. If they run the table and win all three games, they will move up in the rankings and take the lead in the Mountain West. Should they lose to Kansas and one of their conference foes, they may fall from the Top 25 and struggle to stay on top of the conference.
Overall a 10-1 record to start the season, with the only loss coming against No. 1 Arizona, is better than most would have anticipated for the Aztecs who lost three starters and a key sixth man from last season's tournament team.