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Utes face improved MWC foe

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For years, a game against San Diego State has been a gimme on the Utah basketball schedule.

The Utes have won their last 11 meetings with the Aztecs by an average margin of 18 points. The last time San Diego State beat the Utes was clear back in 1994.

But no longer can the Utes expect to cruise to an automatic victory against the Aztecs. In just a couple of seasons, coach Steve Fisher has turned SDSU from the laughingstock of the Mountain West Conference to a bonafide contender.

The Utes meet the new-and-improved Aztecs Monday night at 7 p.m. in the Huntsman Center.

San Diego State comes into the game off a 75-64 loss to BYU Saturday but is still an impressive 10-5 on the season. Fisher has greatly improved his personnel since starting off with an 0-14 league record in 1999-2000.

He brought in junior college transfer Randy Holcomb last year and added Tony Bland, a former starter at Syracuse and Brandon Smith, a former starter at Michigan. Those three have blended with holdovers Myron Epps and Al Faux and 6-9 JC transfer Mike Mackell to give the Aztecs a dangerous club.

Holcomb may be the best player in the league with an 18.4 scoring average and league-leading 10.1 rebounds per game. Faux is averaging 18.2 points per game, while Bland is scoring 16.5 per game.

The Aztecs went into the BYU game ranked 12th in the nation in field goal shooting (49.6 percent), but had a poor day in Provo, finishing with 36.8 percent. Bland missed all 10 of his shots and finished with just two points, while Faux was a miserable 5 for 18.

They're bound to be better Monday night, while on the other hand, the Utes can't expect to match Saturday's torrid 3-point shooting against UNLV. The Utes set a school record for most threes in a game with 17, while shooting 65.4 percent from behind the arc.

"We can't count on that every night," said Ute coach Rick Majerus. "This was not indicative of our team. This game was an aberration."

Fisher is hoping Saturday's game in Provo was an aberration for his team also.

"Sometimes after a game like this, you think kids might take a shower and want to slit their wrists," he said. "But then they get dressed, get on the bus and say 'Where's my pizza?' We all need to be better. And if we can play our best (Monday night), I think we will win."

The Utes have won eight straight games this year and 45 straight conference games at the Huntsman Center, dating back to 1996.

San Diego St. (10-5) at Utah (11-3)

Huntsman Center, 7 p.m.

TV: KJZZ, Ch. 14


E-MAIL: sor@desnews.com