No. 21 San Diego State took care of business in Fort Collins, Colorado and came away with a 71-61 victory over the Colorado State Rams in the start of Mountain West Conference play. They easily could have come out sluggish on New Year's Day, on the road, at altitude. They could have been looking ahead to the game on Sunday versus No. 16 Kansas. Instead they played like a mature 11-1 team that continues to exceed expectations.
The Aztecs are just one of two Mountain West teams to get a win at Moby Arena in Colorado State's last 17 home conference games. So the value of the win is especially significant in terms of conference play.
In his previous two trips to Fort Collins, Aztecs Xavier Thames left in defeat. As a senior, this was his last opportunity, and he made the most of it. Thames scored 14 of his team-leading 23 points in the second half to help secure the 10 point win. He had four of his season-high five steals in the first half and helped the Aztecs go on a 7-0 run heading into halftime.
He also got a lot of help from his teammates as the starting five all played well.
Winston Shepard had another solid game with 17 points. Josh Davis continued to dominate on the boards, hauling in 15 rebounds to go with seven points and three steals. J.J. O'Brien started strong, scoring seven of his nine points in the first half. He fouled out with 5:17 remaining in the second half thanks to a few questionable calls. Skylar Spencer had nine rebounds to go with four points and four blocks.
Colorado State has a whole new starting five from a season ago when they were 26-9 and lost to Louisville in the third round of the NCAA Tournament. Junior Daniel Bejarano is a familiar face. He was the Mountain West Sixth Man of the Year in 2012-13. He led the Rams with 22 points, scoring 18 in the second half.
Newcomer J.J. Avila had an exceptional first half for the Rams, scoring 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting. But he disappeared in the second half. He was just 1-of-3 from the field and fouled out with just under four minutes to play.
The Aztecs bench will play a pivotal role this season, especially on the road at higher elevations. Aqeel Quinn and Dwayne Polee II have been playing well and are starting to steal minutes away from Matt Shrigley and Dakarai Allen. Quinn scored eight points, converting 2-of-3 three pointers. Polee had three points while Shrigley and Allen were held scoreless.
With the win over Colorado State now behind them, the Aztecs can officially concentrate on Sunday's game at Kansas. While the Aztecs are 2-1 against Top 40 teams, the rest of the Mountain West is 0-17. A win on Sunday is needed as much for the good of the conference as it is for San Diego State.
Next Opponent: Kansas
Day/Date: Sunday, January 5
Time: 4:30 pm EST
Where to Watch: National coverage on CBS