AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP) - Once they had dispatched of feisty Air Force, the sixth-ranked San Diego State Aztecs were free to focus on BYU, the only team to beat them this year.
They talked about cleaning up all that went wrong in a 13-point loss to the Cougars last month. Atop that list ...
``We have to try to keep Jimmer under 43,' cracked Aztecs point guard D.J. Gay, recalling Jimmer Fredette's point total in that Jan. 26 game in Provo, Utah.
The Aztecs, who lead the nation in wins (27) and winning percentage (96.4), have six days to prepare for the big rematch against the nation's leading scorer and seventh-ranked BYU.
``This game we really want,' Malcolm Thomas said. ``We want to show that we're one of the best in the nation.'
They warmed up by holding off Air Force 70-58 Saturday and setting a school record with its 27th win. Thomas posted his seventh double-double of the season with 20 points and 13 rebounds, and Kawhi Leonard posted his 19th double-double with 18 points and 15 boards as the Aztecs (27-1, 12-1 Mountain West) beat the Falcons (13-12, 4-8) for the seventh straight time.
Air Force, which was led by Michael Lyons' 18 points, was beaten on the glass 50-27 and allowed 21 offensive rebounds. The Falcons fell to 0-30 against top-10 opponents and 1-71 all-time against ranked teams.
But they sure made a game of it before fading down the stretch.
``We came out and played our hearts out in the first half and fought in the second half,' said Falcons forward Derek Brooks, whose team took a 32-31 lead at the break on Tom Fow's dunk off a backdoor cut in the closing seconds, halting an 8-0 Aztecs run.
Fow's pair of 3-pointers served as the Falcons' only points in the first eight minutes of the second half as the Aztecs began to find a rhythm.
Even with their 21-8 spurt spanning halftime, the Aztecs weren't able to pull away until the final 10 minutes.
``Air Force is super tough, way better than last year,' Thomas said. ``The way they played us at home, we knew coming in here we had to bring our hard hats.'
With 9:52 left, Adam Brakeville was whistled for an intentional foul as Billy White had a breakaway to the basket, and Brakeville's technical foul shots made it 52-44. On the ensuing possession, Leonard sank two more freebies to make it a double-digit lead.
``We expected a hard-fought game from a team that plays everybody tough,' Aztecs coach Steve Fisher said. ``We had our hands full at our place when we played Air Force (in a 68-55 win Jan. 19). They had a six-point lead late in the first half and we fought our way back. Tonight, they had a seven-point lead in the first half and we fought our way back.'
Although Air Force surprisingly outscored the athletic Aztecs 10-0 on the fastbreak, they were outscored 19-2 by San Diego State on second-chance points.
``Offensive rebounding is always key for us,' Leonard said.
And that's what ruined Air Force's hopes of an upset.
``We played defense as well as we've played all year. We held the sixth-ranked team in the country to 35 percent from the field, and we were in the game,' Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds said. ``It came down to those second-chance points. We couldn't keep them off the glass. They were able to push us around underneath and get rebounds.'
The Aztecs' previous record for wins was set in 2008-09, when they went 26-10 and reached the NIT semifinals. Owners of the nation's best record, San Diego State has won a school record 36 consecutive games against non-ranked opponents.
``We're enjoying the success, but we're not worried about records,' Fisher said. ``We want to win the next one. We'll worry about all things that happen in terms of 'first this, first that' hopefully in April.'
The Associated Press News Service
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