San Diego State's strong start enough to bury Saint Mary's

SAN DIEGO -- After taking over San Diego State's sad-sack basketball program in 1999, Steve Fisher would walk across campus giving away tickets.

The days of freebies are long gone. From his office window, Fisher saw a steady line of fans at the box office all Wednesday afternoon.

"Now we're a hot ticket," Fisher said Wednesday night after the undefeated and Aztecs (No. 19 ESPN/USA Today, No. 17 AP) beat Saint Mary's 69-55 night in front of a sellout crowd of 12,414 at Viejas Arena.

Chase Tapley scored 14 points and keyed a 12-3 run late in the first half. Malcolm Thomas had 12 points and six of SDSU's 10 blocked shots. The Aztecs scored 14 of the game's first 16 points and looked sharp five days after a somewhat lethargic effort in an 88-69 home-opening win against San Diego Christian College of the NAIA.

The Aztecs prepped for this game by watching film and talking about their worst loss of last season, 80-58 at Saint Mary's in the second game.

"It stuck with us," Thomas said. "We talked about it all the time in practice. Last year we didn't communicate well. We kind of underestimated defensive transition and this year we kind of made that our main goal defensively."

Rob Jones, a transfer from the University of San Diego, made five 3-pointers and finished with a game-high 17 points for Saint Mary's. Matthew Dellavedova scored 15.

SDSU guard D.J. Gay held Gaels leading scorer Mickey McConnell to two points, 12.4 below his average.

"Give it up to D.J. Gay," Tapley said. "He played him tough for 94 feet. He locked him up."

SDSU is 7-0 for the first time since 2006-07, when it won its first eight games. Saint Mary's (6-2) has lost two straight. The Gaels were coming off a 74-73 loss to BYU (No. 25 ESPN/USA Today, No. 21 AP), a Mountain West Conference rival of SDSU.

This is the fifth straight season the Aztecs and Gaels have played each other. Two years ago, the Aztecs beat Saint Mary's 70-66 in San Diego to advance to the semifinals of the NIT. Then came the 22-point loss to the Gaels last year.

"It feels good to beat Saint Mary's," Fisher said. "They've had our number, and they really had it a year ago at their place. It was a good victory against a very good basketball team. I thought we defended the way we wanted to defend."

Jones saw a big difference in the Aztecs.

"They are a year older, more mature and grew up a little bit," Jones said. "They have good players and are playing well right now."

After McConnell made the game's first basket, the Aztecs scored 14 straight points to take control. Billy White had seven of those points, including a 3-pointer.

Dellavedova made consecutive 3-pointers midway through the half to pull Saint Mary's to 19-15. Dellavedova made a layup with 6:59 left to keep the margin at four points before SDSU went on a 12-3 run to take a 35-22 lead. Tapley scored nine of those points, including two 3-pointers.

SDSU led 37-24 at halftime.

"We came back tonight, but you just can't do that against a team as good as they are," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "Credit them. They're good. They played well. They exposed us, exposed a lot of things and most of all, we have to get mentally tougher."

The Aztecs' biggest lead was 55-35 after a layup by White with 10:16 left. Jones hit two 3-pointers during a 12-2 run that closed SDSU's lead to 57-47 with 6:27 left.

Gay then converted a three-point play to put the Aztecs up by 13.

The start of the game was delayed 18 minutes while the lights powered back up after they were turned off for SDSU's introduction.