SAN DIEGO -- The Brigham Young Cougars (No. 22 ESPN/USA Today; No. 21 AP)never had a chance against San Diego State.
Jerome Habel came flying in for a reverse dunk off the opening tip to get the crowd fired up and the Aztecs' defense took over not long after, keying an 86-74 win over the Mountain West Conference leaders. The Cougars' winning streak ended at eight.
"It's very difficult to be playing from behind for 40 minutes, and we made BYU do that today," SDSU coach Steve Fisher said. "It was extremely beneficial for us to get that lead."
Heath, the reigning MWC Player of the Year, scored 12 of the Aztecs' first 20 points, including a 3-point shot and a three-point play. That fueled an 18-0 run that carried SDSU to a 22-4 lead.
"San Diego State was really intense tonight and for the first four or five minutes, we just weren't in a position to handle it," BYU coach Dave Rose said. "After we settled in, it was a big hill to climb and we weren't able to do it."
BYU (21-7, 11-3 MWC) went almost seven minutes between field goals, and didn't reach double digits until Trent Plaisted made a three-point play with 9:26 left before halftime to make it 30-12. SDSU led 43-25 at halftime.
BYU had 19 turnovers, which contributed to 20 points by the Aztecs.
"I take full responsibility," guard Austin Ainge said. "You can't win when I have six turnovers and we start off a game like that.
"They've been playing well the last couple of weeks, a lot better than they were at our place," Ainge said. "We knew they were going to play hard and we didn't match their intensity."
SDSU avenged an 80-58 loss at BYU on Jan. 6, the Aztecs' worst defeat of the season. It came during a stretch when the Aztecs lost four of their first six MWC games.
"We emphasized, don't give them what we did the last time," Fisher said. "They ran us off the floor."
Said Abukar: "We knew coming out with a big lead and hitting them early was going to be huge for us. We talked about that before coming out of the tunnel."
Habel scored 12 points and Lorrenzo Wade 10 for the Aztecs, who've reeled off impressive home wins against Air Force, UNLV and BYU.
"We've beat three good teams here, all of them that we were looking up at when we played them, all of whom beat us at their place," Fisher said. "They were wins at a time when all of them were saying, 'Boy, if we win, we can either hold the lead, get the lead or get close to the lead.' "
SDSU won the Mountain West tournament last year to advance to the NCAA tournament, a route the Aztecs might have to follow again this year due to its inconsistent play early in the conference schedule.
The Aztecs have won consecutive games against ranked teams for just the second time since moving to Division I in 1970-71. SDSU beat Air Force, then ranked No. 15, 62-41 at home on Feb. 6. The only other time the Aztecs accomplished the feat was with wins against New Mexico and BYU in the 1987-88 season.
It was the first time the Aztecs had wins against two ranked teams in one month since beating San Francisco and Kansas in December 1978.
Overall, SDSU is 12-73 against ranked opponents.
San Diego led 61-40 midway through the second half before BYU whittled it down with a barrage of five 3-pointers by Tavernari and four by Austin Ainge.