San Diego State Win at New Mexico Bigger for Mountain West Title Hopes

Erik SchultzCorrespondent IJanuary 19, 2012

SAN DIEGO, CA - JANUARY 14 - Mike Moser #43 of the UNLV Runnin' Rebels shoots over Deshawn Stephens #23 of the San Diego State Aztecs during the first half of the game at Viejas Arena on January 14, 2012 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Kent C. Horner/Getty Images)
Kent Horner/Getty Images

After an enormous, emotional win over No. 12 UNLV on Saturday in front of a great home crowd, San Diego State had to come back and win another crucial conference game in front of another home crowd.  This crowd, however, was not on their side. 

San Diego State backed up their biggest win of the season thus far with a 75-70 win over New Mexico at The Pit in Albuquerque. 

With the win, the Aztecs—now 2-0 in the Mountain West—have an early one-game edge on both UNLV and New Mexico, the two teams expected to challenge for the league title (along with San Diego State).

New Mexico is far too good for this to have been considered a trap game for San Diego State.  The fact that Steve Fisher’s team was able to follow up the UNLV game with another important win shows just how good this team is—and why they could win the MWC outright this season. 

Last year’s regular-season champion, BYU, lost to New Mexico at The Pit.  They also lost at home to the Lobos, but without forward Brandon Davies.   

Two years ago, the Cougars also lost at The Pit en route to the MWC regular-season title.  The point is: it is an extremely tough place for MWC teams to win games—even for the best team in the league.

It looked like San Diego State was going to suffer a similar setback in Albuquerque, as they were down by four with 12:38 to play. 

Over the next 10 minutes, the Aztecs turned the heat up defensively and locking down on the Lobos’ best player, Drew Gordon.  They held Gordon to just one missed shot and one free throw over that 10-minute span.

Meanwhile, San Diego State went on a 20-3 run that made The Pit about as silent as that arena can be. 

On the offensive end, the Aztecs did a great job of moving the ball around and finding the open man.  They took full advantage of any transition opportunities generated by their improved efforts on the other end. 

They also protected the basketball, not turning the ball over for a nearly 15-minute stretch.   

Very few teams would be able to hold onto the ball that well in such a raucous atmosphere.  San Diego State did, and that’s why they won.   

A few late threes for New Mexico in the final minute made the outcome more respectable, but San Diego State’s domination through much of the second half carried them to a very impressive win.

It was a night where two other Top 20 teams—Indiana and Mississippi State—lost on the road to teams near the bottom of their conferences. So San Diego State’s win on the road against a team that came in with a 15-2 record further validates their current No. 16 ranking. 

With two of their toughest conference games now behind them, they are also in the best position to finish on top of the MWC. 

UNLV—with their impressive wins over North Carolina and Illinois—may still be a bit better team than San Diego State.  However, in order to keep up in the MWC race, they will have to win a very tough game at New Mexico.  They will also have to survive road tests such as Wyoming and Colorado State. 

San Diego State, with their sound, team-focused basketball, appears equipped to handle those road tests that lie ahead. 

Home wins like the one over UNLV last weekend get everyone excited, but championships are won on the road.