No. 22 San Diego State should have plenty of motivation heading into a Mountain West Conference game against visiting Boise State on Friday night.
The Aztecs are coming off a 75-66 loss at Nevada on Tuesday night, a result that dropped them into a tie for first with Boise State in the conference standings and likely will leave them out of next week’s Associated Press Top 25.
“It’s wide open,” San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher said of the conference race.
San Diego State (17-5, 8-2 MWC) had just re-entered the rankings this week after falling out following its other conference loss, against New Mexico on Jan. 14.
The Aztecs were just one point behind Nevada with three minutes left before getting outscored 12-4 the rest of the way, ending a nine-game winning streak against the Wolf Pack.
“We played well enough in stretches to stay in the game, but we didn’t play well enough to win the game,” Dutcher said.
Defense will be a focus leading up to the Boise State matchup. Nevada shot 15-for-23 (65.2 percent) from the floor in the second half against the Aztecs.
“You can’t let a team shoot 65 percent and expect to win,” Dutcher said.
San Diego State likely has bitter memories of its last meeting with Boise State.
The Broncos (18-5, 8-2) defeated the Aztecs twice during conference play last season before meeting the teams squared off in the championship game of the league tournament in Las Vegas.
Boise State escaped with a 53-52 victory, becoming just the fifth team in MWC history to win an outright regular-season conference title and the postseason tournament.
The Aztecs returned four of their five leading scorers from last season, but only Lamont Butler and Keshad Johnson have improved on their scoring averages.
Matt Bradley led San Diego State at 16.9 points last season, but the senior guard is down to 13.2. In the past seven games, he has shot 34.8 percent from the floor, well off the 43.8 percent field-goal rate he posted last season. He field-goal percentage for the 2022-23 season is down to 39.9 percent.
Boise State returned just two of its five leading scorers from last season but has seen vast improvements from sophomore forward Tyson Degenhart and senior guard Max Rice.
Degenhart leads the Broncos at 14.4 points per game after averaging 9.9 last season. He has surpassed the 20-point mark twice in the past four games.
Rice averaged just four points last season, but he is up to 13.7 this season — second best on the team. Rice scored 29 in a win against Nevada on Jan. 17, and he had 22 in a 59-52 victory at Air Force on Tuesday.
Rice has been especially hot in first halves, reaching double figures in scoring in the opening 20 minutes in seven of the past nine games.
Chibuzo Agbo, a transfer from Texas Tech, is averaging 11.7 points for the Broncos.
Boise State could be without two other starters against the Aztecs, however.
Naje Smith left with an injury in the first half against Air Force, and Marcus Shaver Jr. departed with 2:41 remaining.
“No speculation,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said on a postgame radio interview regarding the status of the players. “I hate seeing that, especially this time of year and especially with what’s coming down the pipe. But that’s part of college basketball, and those guys are tough guys. If they can (play), they will, and if they can’t, they won’t.”
–Field Level Media