No. 18 San Diego State aims to stay unbeaten vs. BYU
Last season, San Diego State was the last unbeaten team in Division I, a scenario that might not have seemed plausible even to Aztec fans.
Could it happen again this season? Even fewer people had that on their bingo card, but given how San Diego State has played during a 5-0 start that has earned them the No. 18 ranking this week, the possibility can't be discounted.
The Aztecs certainly looked the part on Dec. 10 in an 80-68 thumping of then-No. 23 Arizona State, and will aim for a sixth straight win Friday when BYU visits to rekindle an old WAC and Mountain West rivalry.
"We looked at our schedule before the season started and we liked every game we had," said guard Jordan Schakel following the victory over Arizona State. "We know it's going to be very tough, very challenging, and that's why everyone on this roster came to San Diego State."
Schakel has been a revelation for the Aztecs, morphing from catch-and-shoot specialist into a versatile scorer with a team-high 15.2 points per game. Schakel is still deadly from 3-point range at 41.9 percent but has been able to score off the dribble in a way he couldn't before this season.
Add the consistency of Matt Mitchell (12.6 ppg), the contributions of multiple role players such as Nathan Mensah (9.0 ppg, 8.0 rebounds, 1.2 blocked shots) and you have a team that maximizes its strengths.
And, of course, you have a team that plays defense. Opponents are making just 37.5 percent of their shots. Arizona State appeared to reach a stage midway through San Diego State's game-breaking, second-half run when it wearied of working for good shots and settled for any shot just to get the possession over.
"Playing games like this, playing Pac-12 opponents ... we're just happy for our performance tonight," Schakel said.
Meanwhile, BYU (6-2) is coming off a significant win of its own against a Pac-12 foe. The Cougars finished a busy opening stretch Saturday of eight games in 18 days with an 82-64 whipping of Utah in Provo, getting 17 points from Connor Harding and shooting 55.4 percent from the field.
Equally impressive was the defensive effort. BYU limited the Utes to 36.4 percent from the field and owned a 16-rebound advantage.
"You could just feel the fatigue of my guys growing and they found a way to group together and battle," Cougars coach Mark Pope said. "In a huge rivalry game, the guys stepped up and got it done."
Arizona transfer Alex Barcello is the team's only double-figure scorer at 17.8 points per game, largely because he's shooting 61.4 percent from the field and 62.2 percent on 3-pointers. He wasn't the only big-time transfer to land on BYU's roster. Seven-three center Matt Haarms left Purdue for Provo, and is scoring 9.7 points while blocking more than two shots per game.
The Aztecs have won the teams' last four meetings, including a road win last November, although the Cougars own a 48-25 advantage in the all-time series.
--Field Level Media
Updated December 17, 2020