San Diego State has dominated in-state competition of late, but keeping its winning streak over California schools intact won't be easy.
The 25th-ranked Aztecs go for their 25th straight win over an in-state opponent Sunday night when they visit Southern California.
San Diego State (3-1) has won three consecutive games by at least 16 since a season-opening 62-49 loss to then-No. 9 Syracuse aboard the USS Midway, but its next two games should be tougher tests.
The Aztecs, who haven't lost to a California school since falling at Pacific on Nov. 25, 2009, are 0-6 all-time at USC and their next game is against No. 11 UCLA in Anaheim on Saturday.
"They'll get harder from here. We know that," San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said after Wednesday's 79-43 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff. "We have to continue to get better. We have a lot of room to grow."
After allowing an average of 61.5 points over the last three seasons, defense continues to be the key for the Aztecs. They're surrendering 51.5 points per game and have held their last two opponents below 45.
San Diego State limited Arkansas-Pine Bluff to 14 first-half points and 18-of-54 shooting for the game. Opponents are shooting 35.1 percent overall and 21.5 percent from 3-point range.
Offensively, reigning Mountain West Player of the Year Jamaal Franklin continues to play much bigger than his 6-foot-5, 205-pound frame. The junior guard is averaging 19.0 points and 11.0 rebounds after averaging 17.4 and 7.9 last season. He finished with 15 and 11 against Arkansas-Pine Bluff for his third-straight double-double.
Senior forward Deshawn Stephens also posted his first double-double in his 38th career game with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
"It feels good," said Stephens, who averages 6.8 points and 7.3 boards. "Finally, after so many games getting nine rebounds, eight rebounds. I should be doing it all the time. I've just got to keep working hard."
The Trojans (3-2) return from the Maui Invitational looking for their first 3-0 home start since 2008. USC went 1-2 on the island and lost to Marquette 72-64 in the tournament's fifth-place game on Wednesday.
Junior guard J.T. Terrell leads the team in scoring at 13.6 points per game, but the Trojans' front line may be the biggest challenge for San Diego State. USC is one of only two Division I schools, along with Florida State, with three seven-footers listed on their opening season roster - Dewayne Dedmon, Omar Oraby and James Blasczyk.
Dedmon, a starter, is the biggest factor with 6.6 points and a team-best 7.2 rebounds in 21.0 minutes per game.
The Aztecs struggled a bit against a Syracuse lineup starting four players standing 6-foot-6 or taller. They had 10 of their shots blocked and shot 27.0 percent.
"It's definitely going to be different, but it's not like we haven't faced size before," Stephens said of playing USC. "We just have to adapt to it, try to play the best basketball we can and do what we can to win."
Highly touted freshman forward Winston Shepard could give San Diego State a lift after serving a three-game suspension for violating preferential treatment legislation. Shepard had four points and seven rebounds in 21 minutes against Syracuse.
USC leads the all-time series 10-2, but Xavier Thames hit the game-winning shot with 1.8 seconds left last season to give San Diego State a 56-54 win at home.
The Associated Press News Service
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