No. 4 Aztecs prep for their biggest game yet
SAN DIEGO – They won at Gonzaga and at The Pit in New Mexico.
They’re 20-0 and join No. 1 Ohio State as the only undefeated teams in Division I.
Even so, the San Diego State Aztecs sense there are still skeptics out there who don’t quite buy their lofty No. 4 national ranking.
So they know that a win on the road Wednesday night against Jimmer Fredette and No. 9 BYU (19-1) would be a defining moment in the best season in school history.
“This game is either going to be an ‘I told you so,’ or ‘Wow, they’re really that good,’ ” SDSU point guard D.J. Gay said Monday.
It will be the first matchup between Top 10 teams in the 12-year history of the Mountain West Conference. Both teams are 5-0 in conference play.
“I know that it’s not only a huge game for San Diego State and our own league, but a huge game nationally,” said Steve Fisher, who in 12 seasons has turned the Aztecs from a laughingstock to a program that began the season ranked for the first time ever in The Associated Press Top 25.
“I think it will be a game that will be fitting of the buildup,” Fisher said. “I hope it is. They’ll have 23,000 people there and it will be a madhouse. Our players are excited. Hopefully they won’t play with the anxiousness that sometimes comes with the buildup, and try to do things too fast.
“We are hopeful that we’ll go up and come back 21-0. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Naturally, everyone wants to know how the Aztecs are going to try to slow down Fredette, the nation’s leading scorer.
“When that question was asked at a luncheon I spoke at, I asked everybody who was there, ‘Pull out your pen, use the napkin or a piece of paper, give me your suggestions and at the tipoff on Wednesday we’ll have a decision made,’ ” Fisher said.
Fredette scored 47 points in a 104-79 victory at Utah on Jan. 11.
“Nobody nationally has been able to stop him. We’ve had a hard time in the past stopping him,” Fisher said. “He’s been over 40 points I think five times. So we have to make sure that we make it hard for he and his sidekicks, which are pretty doggone good, too, that they don’t get a lot of easy looks. Easy is relative. We can’t give him 17 free throws like he had against Colorado State, we can’t give him layups, we have to contest 3’s and hope that he’s not making all of them.”
Fisher wouldn’t say how the Aztecs will guard Fredette.
“We have been and will continue to work on a variety of things, not just one thing,” Fisher said. “We need to have the next idea waiting in the wings as we move through the game.”
The Aztecs haven’t played since a 68-55 home win against Air Force on Wednesday night – when sophomore forward Kawhi Leonard had his 13th double-double this season and 30th of his career – so they’ve had plenty of time to prepare for BYU.
Fisher called Fredette “as good a player as there is in the United States. It starts with Fredette but it doesn’t end with Fredette. I think they’re the best running team in the United States, so we’ve got to do a good job of knowing what we’re doing with our defensive conversion, which involves Fredette but also involves others.”
Said Gay: “Everybody guards Jimmer Fredette – there isn’t any specific person on him.”
The Aztecs generally have started games slowly, then come on strong in the second half.
They know that won’t work at BYU.
“The first half has to be our best half, and in the second half we have to continue to execute,” senior forward Malcolm Thomas said.
“I didn’t think it would be as big as it is but I’m glad that it’s this big,” Gay said. “It’s going to give the team an NCAA tournament feel. We have to go out there and stay focused for 40 minutes to go into their house and win. They play very well at home and everybody knows that. With all the hype built up around this game it’s going to show how mentally strong we are to play with all the surrounding media” attention.
Even as he was focusing on BYU, Fisher got a reminder of how popular his team has become.
He said he got a call at 7 a.m. Monday that students were lined up on campus to get tickets for Saturday night’s home game against Wyoming.
“It’s a fun time for San Diego State basketball,” he said.