December 06, 2014

San Diego State coach Steve Fisher doesn't hide his frustration when it comes to his squad's struggling offense that is among the worst in the country statistically.

Its suffocating defense is what continues to calm him.

The 13th-ranked Aztecs could be tested at both ends of the floor when they visit unbeaten Washington on Sunday night.

San Diego State (6-1) ranks no better than 200th nationally in points per game (66.4), field-goal percentage (42.1) and free-throw percentage (62.9), but it continues to pull out victories far more often than not.

The Aztecs, whose only defeat is a 61-59 loss to then-No. 3 Arizona in the Maui Invitational championship game Nov. 26, have shot worse than 40 percent form the field three times, including 37.3 in Thursday's 57-48 win over San Diego.

They led from start to finish despite shooting a season-worst 48.1 percent from the free-throw line (13 of 27).

"I think that is a testament to our defense," said forward Dwayne Polee, who scored a team-high 14 points. "Even if our offense isn't rolling, we are still going to play as hard as we can on defense."

SDSU committed 10 of its 15 turnovers in the first half but also forced 14 and held San Diego to 36.5 percent from the field. The Aztecs rank in the top 20 nationally in scoring defense (55.3 points per game) and opponents' field-goal percentage (35.1).

"Our philosophy is defense first," freshman guard Trey Kell said. "We just want to win, and with defense you can do that, no matter how bad we play on offense, or how many missed free throws."

Fisher didn't quite brush off how poorly the Aztecs have shot the ball from all areas of the court, but he's not going to argue with the results. SDSU has beaten 53 straight unranked, non-conference opponents, the second-longest streak in the nation to Ohio State's 58 consecutive wins.

"We need to improve on things if we want to be really good. We can't turn the ball over 10 times in the first half and shoot less than 50 percent from the free-throw line," Fisher said.

"We just have to stay with it. We're 6-1 and we want to go to Washington and get a win."

That may be easier said than done. Not only are the Huskies (6-0) in the top 20 nationally in opponents' field-goal percentage at 35.5, but they run an efficient offensive attack led by sophomore point guard Nigel Williams-Gross.

Washington, off to its best start since winning its first seven in 2006-07, got 20 points from Andrew Andrews and 16 from Williams-Gross in last Sunday's 68-65 win over UTEP in the Wooden Legacy championship game.

"I just see that everyone is a little more focused," Andrews told the team's official website. "We feel like everybody is dialed in. We have a whole team that has bought in."

Williams-Gross ranks among the national leaders in assists at 7.5 per game while leading the team in scoring at 14.7 points per contest. Fresno State transfer Robert Upshaw's average of 4.8 blocks leads the country even though he's averaging just 16.8 minutes off the bench.

"Coach (Lorenzo Romar) always talks about building a machine," Williams-Gross said. "We're going to focus on the things we've been working on and just keep improving on them."

Williams-Gross had 14 points last Dec. 8 against then-No. 24 San Diego State in a game Washington led by nine at halftime, but Winston Shepard's 17 points helped the Aztecs rally for a 70-63 win.

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