SAN DIEGO (AP) - Pushing for their first Top 10 ranking ever, the San Diego State Aztecs showed how good they can be if they play hard from the opening tipoff.
Malcolm Thomas had 18 points and 10 rebounds, and keyed a 17-1 run at the end of the first half that carried the undefeated No. 11 Aztecs to a 90-64 victory over UC Santa Barbara on Saturday night.
The Aztecs improved to 12-0 for the first time in school history. Their winning streak is second to Duke's 20-game run, and they are one of nine undefeated teams left in the country.
``I do think that in my 11-plus years here, that was probably the best half we've played on both ends of the floor, against a good team,' coach Steve Fisher said of his Aztecs, who led 57-29 at halftime. ``And we were really good defensively. We made a very good Santa Barbara team look not so good today. That one is on us. That was a good team we played tonight.'
SDSU's Kawhi Leonard and Chase Tapley, sidelined by the flu for a lackluster 51-45 win against Cal Poly on Monday night, returned and were among six Aztecs in double figures. Leonard scored 13, Tapley and D.J. Gay 12 apiece, and Billy White and Brian Carlwell 11 apiece.
UCSB (5-4), coming off a 68-62 win at No. 22 UNLV on Wednesday night, scored only one point in the final 5:04 of the first half. Orlando Johnson and James Nunnally scored 15 apiece for the Gauchos.
``It's a perfect storm tonight for San Diego State,' UCSB coach Bob Williams said. ``Coach Fisher has their attention because they played poorly against Cal Poly. He can really get their attention because we go in and beat Vegas at Vegas. They didn't overlook us, they came out fired up.'
The Aztecs have been slow starters this season.
``It feels good to come out in the first half and just play our hardest,' White said. ``Usually the first half is always kind of lazy for us, we always start off kind of slow and then we pick it up in the second half. In this game, coach got on us, told us we need to play good the whole 40 minutes of the game. That's what we tried to do.'
The Aztecs made 12-of-24 3-pointers. On Monday night, they missed all 18 shots from behind the arc.
The Aztecs, who pressed most of the game, shot 69 percent in the first half and 56.1 percent overall. They held the Gauchos to 39.1 percent.
On Monday night, Fisher said his Aztecs ``could not throw it in the ocean.'
``They shot it tonight,' Fisher said. ``They did what they are supposed to do. Tonight in the first half we could have shot it into a thimble and it would have gone in, without hitting the side.'
The Aztecs were already up 40-28 when they went on their big run to close the first half. Thomas had seven points in the run, starting it with a three-point play with 4:29 left and adding two layups. Tapley had two 3-pointers, the second with 2 seconds left for a 57-29 halftime lead.
SDSU found its long-range shooting early, getting four 3-pointers from Gay and one apiece from Tapley and James Rahon to take a 36-21 lead with 6:49 left before halftime.
``It's a double-edged sword,' Williams said. ``You probably can't take away everything. When a team comes out and shoots like this and are as talented as they are, the result is going to be the way it is tonight. I thought the second 10 minutes of the first half was the difference.'
The Aztecs played in front of their fourth sellout crowd of 12,414 in six games at Viejas Arena this season.
``Everybody loves to win,' Fisher said. ``People say San Diego is a town for winners. If you win, they will have them storming the gates. And we've won.'
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved