Navigating the Mountain West basketball season involves trips into altitude, into different time zones, into snow and ice and wind, into the barren desert and the fertile Central Valley.
You must try to win your share against the conference’s best teams, but maybe the most perilous part, given the arduous travel and elevation, is not losing to teams you shouldn’t. Not stepping on a landmine. Not stepping in it.
Mission accomplished, then, for No. 25 San Diego State after a 75-57 win Saturday at Fresno State made it 8-0 against the bottom half of the Mountain West. Only a showdown next weekend against first-place Boise State at Viejas Arena currently remains on the regular-season schedule.
Good wins are a key component of a solid NCAA Tournament resume. Equally important is the absence of bad losses, and the Aztecs (17-4, 11-3) have none outside the top 60 of the NCAA’s NET metric.
This was the fifth conference series they swept this season, and the previous four were all closer in the second game than the first. Not this one. The Aztecs pushed the margin to 23 midway through the second half and won by four more points than Thursday’s 67-53 decision at Save Mart Center.
That makes it eight straight overall wins and 15 straight against teams from the state of California, the longest active streak (two more than USC). Fresno State (9-9, 8-10), meanwhile, lost against an Associated Press Top 25 opponent for the 28th consecutive time.
The Aztecs didn’t get a career-high 18 points from Trey Pulliam again (he had eight on 2 of 8 shooting), but they didn’t need them. Only six other players scored Thursday; by the middle of the second half, 10 had Saturday. And everyone else shot a combined 69.7 percent.
Senior Jordan Schakel came close to his first career double-double, finishing with 14 points and eight rebounds after not missing a shot (5 of 5 overall, 4 of 4 behind the arc). Terrell Gomez was 5 of 7 and had 13 points. Matt Mitchell also had 13.
The other improvement came from deep. The Aztecs had made only three, three and five 3s in their previous three games against the Bulldogs’ no-help, don’t-leave-the-shooters defensive scheme. They had six by halftime and finished 8 of 12.
They moved the ball better in the halfcourt. But several 3s came in transition, before the defense could organize and find its assignments.
The Aztecs didn’t give up an 11-0 run to the start the game, like they did two days earlier. Instead, they led 9-0.
But they did give up a 10-0 run midway through the half that allowed Fresno State back in the game after it trailed by 13. Coach Brian Dutcher had seen enough and called timeout with 3:23 left instead of waiting for the “free” media timeout that was coming at the next whistle.
He motioned down the bench to Aguek Arop, his most versatile and energetic player who sat out Thursday when his vertigo flared up. Arop made an immediate impact, drawing a foul 20 seconds later on an aggressive drive to get the Aztecs in the bonus and making both free throws.
Ninety seconds later, Arop coaxed a turnover by jumping around with his 7-foot-1 wingspan while guarding a baseline inbound pass. Mitchell intercepted it, starting a fast break that ended with a Schakel 3 in the opposite corner. By halftime, the lead was back to double digits at 36-26.
When Adam Seiko drained a 3 from the right corner on a nice feed from Mitchell with nine minutes to go, the margin was 23.
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