SAN DIEGO (AP) — It's come down to this for No. 10 San Diego State — win at UNLV on Wednesday night and the Aztecs will be playing for the outright Mountain West Conference championship at home Saturday night against No. 21 New Mexico.
The Aztecs certainly aren't looking past the third-place Runnin' Rebels, but they know what's at stake.
"I would say, not having looked at anybody's schedule other than our own, we have the most exciting, challenging last week of the regular season that anybody could hope to have, want to have, want not to have," coach Steve Fisher said Tuesday. "It will be good for TV, good for the newsprint and the coaches will all be nervous on both sides."
The Aztecs (25-3, 14-2) have rebounded nicely since they were soundly beaten at New Mexico on Feb. 22. They beat San Jose State 90-64 at home and then won 82-67 at Fresno State.
UNLV (19-10, 10-6) had beaten SDSU three straight times until the Aztecs used an advantage at the free-throw line for a 63-52 victory in San Diego on Jan. 18.
"I've talked on and on about how it's been when we've played them over the last 10 years, and I would expect nothing less on Wednesday," Fisher said. "It's two teams that respect one another, but desperately want to beat the other. We've had a lot of close, tough basketball games, and I would anticipate we would have another on Wednesday. I don't need to repeat the challenges they pose. They're good. They're very athletic, they run, they can shoot the three."
UNLV will be without junior forward Roscoe Smith due to a concussion, but Fisher doesn't expect much to change with the Runnin' Rebels. That's in large part due to Khem Birch, who has blocked 108 shots in 29 games. SDSU's Skylar Spencer has blocked 74 shots in 28 games.
Birch had five blocks in the first game against SDSU, including three in the first 1:30.
"Birch creates so many problems for you because he's always lurking around the rim," Fisher said. "He's a little bit like (Spencer) in that standpoint, except he's a little bit more aggressive with his shot-blocking and maybe a little more effective. He's been a thorn for us and has created a lot of problems for us, guarding anybody that drives to the rim. That's his home, and he doesn't want anybody to get near it. He makes it hard for you. He's been a difficult guy for not only us, but for a lot of teams, to go to the rim and score baskets on because he's coming over to block shots and alter shots. He's very effective at it."
New Mexico (23-5, 14-2) hosts Air Force (11-16, 5-11) on Wednesday night before traveling to face SDSU at what will be a raucous Viejas Arena on Saturday night.
If the Aztecs and Lobos both win Wednesday night, they'll go into the season finale tied for first place at 15-2
New Mexico and SDSU have dominated the Mountain West since 2009-10. New Mexico won outright titles in 2009-10 and last season, while SDSU shared the title with BYU in 2010-11 and with the Lobos the following season.
"It's probably fitting it comes down to this," Fisher said. "We would like to be playing for the outright conference championship on Saturday. In order to do that, we have to get a win tomorrow night. ... The most important thing for us is that we want to win the conference."
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