Aztecs enter conference play by taking down the Bulldogs and Rebels at home
San Diego State (13-2, 2-0) took their first baby steps in the conference by beating two league competitors. They looked strong and confident as they look to repeat as Mountain West conference champions in 2024. On Thursday, the Aztecs welcomed Fresno State (7-7, 0-1) to Viejas Arena and a sellout crowd of 12,414. The Bulldogs are a shadow of their former self and they struggled against the vastly superior Aztecs, who won 74-47 in going-away fashion. The Aztecs were led by superstar Jaedon LeDee with 21 points. Micah Parrish and Lamont Butler both scored 11 points adding to the Aztec barrage. The Bulldogs didn’t have much of an answer, but they were led by Xavier duSell with 10 points. LeDee paced the way with his 8th game with at least 20 points. The Aztecs closed out a strong non-conference schedule, culminating with a spectacular win against Gonzaga and have parlayed that into a 2-0 conference record. Saturday, they hosted a UNLV team, (7-7, 0-1) showing signs of talent through portal transfers. Leading the way is Oklahoma State transfer Kalib Boone and Oklahoma transfer Jalen Hill. Boone's twin brother Keylan also transferred in from the University of Pacific. They are further buoyed by Luis Rodriguez and freshman point guard Dedan Thomas Jr. The Rebels have a nice upset over Creighton and a quality win against Pepperdine.
Against the Aztecs, UNLV started slower than frozen honey, eventually losing 72-61 in front of another sold-out crowd. The Rebels were stuck at five points until over halfway gone in the first half. The Aztecs led by ten at halftime and cruised the rest of the way. Pacing the Rebels were Luis Rodriguez and Dedan Thomas Jr., both with 13 points, while Jaedon LeDee had a double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds for the Aztecs. Micah Parrish added 14 more and Darrion Trammel contributed 10 points. The Aztecs shot 45.8% from the field and were 23-30 on free throws. They dominated the defensive glass, outrebounding UNLV 38-28. The Aztecs enjoyed a 16-point lead, while the Rebels never led. UNLV is home next Tuesday for a contest against the New Mexico Lobos, currently 12-2 on the season. The Aztecs travel to San Jose State for a game on Tuesday with a broadcast on CBS Sports Network. The Spartans are off of two losses against Wyoming and Boise State which saw large leads dissipate in the second half. Expect the Aztecs to close out the Spartans and win by at least ten.
The Mountain West has a plethora of quality teams, all of which should be in the hunt for tournament consideration. Colorado State (13-1), fresh off a win against New Mexico is playing Utah State (13-1) in an early conference heavyweight battle. Nevada, also 13-1 is battling Fresno Saturday evening and has a current lead. Looking ahead for the Aztecs after SJSU is a game in New Mexico on Saturday, January 13 followed by a home game on the 15th against Nevada. The schedule is not easy for any of the teams and there will likely be some cannibalization, but that is what happens in a good conference. This year six very strong teams will be gladiators and should rise to the top of the tournament. Fortunately for the Aztecs, they have last year's tournament run to the national finals to use as an experience builder and stepping stone as they try to reclaim the conference title again. On the way, there will be the Rams, Aggies, Lobos, Wolves, and Broncos, oh my. Right now, it’s the Aztec Warriors on top of the Mesa.