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San Diego State vs. Fresno State: Game Preview

The Aztecs need a win to keep the pace in the regular season title hunt, but a trip to the Central Valley may be the last thing they want.

Kent Horner

#13 San Diego State Aztecs (24-3, 13-2 MWC) vs. Fresno State Bulldogs (15-14, 8-8)

WHEN: Saturday, March 1, 7:15 PST

WHERE: Save Mart Center, Fresno, CA

TV: CBS Sports Network

RADIO: The Fresno broadcast can be heard on the local ESPN affiliate, 940 AM, while the San Diego State feed can be found in and around San Diego on 1090 AM and 105.7 FM.

LAST MEETING: On January 15, the Aztecs defeated the Bulldogs 68-60 in San Diego.

For three months, the San Diego State Aztecs must have looked unbeatable to the rest of the Mountain West. Steve Fisher's high flying squad had climbed into the top ten and became a legitimate part of the conversation surrounding potential one-seeds in the NCAA tournament. Surely, they controlled their own destiny.

Now that the calendar has flipped into March, though, the situation has changed. Two straight road losses have given New Mexico the inside track for the top spot in the conference tournament, and SDSU must keep winning for next Saturday's rematch to maintain its relevancy. If that weren't enough, they must do it on the road, beginning with a date against the hottest team in the conference. Fresno State is celebrating Tark Night for its last home game of the year, and the crowd will be fired up about what is at stake.

What to Watch - Fresno State: One big factor in the team's slow start in conference play was that the 'Dogs simply didn't play good defense. They allowed an average of 78.8 points in the 1-7 start, which makes the 63.2 ppg they've allowed in their recent 7-1 stretch very remarkable. The overall average comes out to 71, which suggests that Fresno's best chance at a victory is holding SDSU under that magic number. That may sound like a tall task, but they did it the first time around.

The Bulldogs will also have to be mindful of San Diego's propensity to get to the free throw line. Though they are not terribly efficient -- SDSU is last in the conference in free throw percentage -- they get to the charity stripe more than any team. That aggressiveness sank Fresno's chance at an upset in January, when the Aztecs received 28 attempts in the second half.

What to Watch - San Diego State: The Aztecs created eleven turnovers in the first game against Fresno, a number which reflects their conference-best turnover margin. That defensive prowess has helped the team survive its recent shooting funk: They failed to top 38% in the four games sandwiched by the losses to Wyoming and New Mexico before breaking out against hapless San Jose State. If the Aztecs struggle early, expect them to use Xavier Thames and Dwayne Polee II to pressure the Bulldogs' potent backcourt into some mistakes and easy scores.