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Feb 5, 2024 4:22 pm

No. 24 San Diego State seeks consistency heading to Air Force

Jay Pal

San Diego State is back in the AP Top 25 heading into its Mountain West Conference game on Tuesday night at Air Force, in Colorado Springs, Colo., and the No. 24 Aztecs hope to stick around in the poll this time.

San Diego State (17-5, 6-3 MWC) has appeared in the rankings three other times this season but lasted just a week before falling out each time.

After opening the season ranked No. 17 on the heels of their appearance in the NCAA Tournament championship game last season, the Aztecs dropped out after losing their second game of the season to BYU, which is now ranked No. 21.

San Diego State clawed back to No. 25 after winning six in a row but fell back out following a six-point loss at Grand Canyon on Dec. 5.

The Aztecs followed with a seven-game winning streak that lifted them back into the Top 25 at No. 19, but an 18-point loss at New Mexico on Jan. 13 put them back on the outside looking in.

San Diego State has lost twice more since then, at Boise State on Jan. 20 and at Colorado State on Jan. 30, but an impressive 81-67 win against visiting Utah State on Saturday has the Aztecs ranked once more.

Utah State entered last week ranked No. 17 but dropped to No. 22.

Colorado State, which fell out of the Top 25 heading into last week, did not return to the poll despite going 2-0 last week with a win against San Diego State.

San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher made a rare change to his starting lineup on Saturday that didn’t involve an injury, illness or suspension. He inserted Jay Pal and Darrion Trammell into the starting five and moved Elijah Saunders and Micah Parrish to the bench.

Pal went 5-for-5 from the floor and scored a season-high 16 points. Parrish scored 14 for his best game in a month and Saunders scored eight points, including two key second-half 3-pointers.

Trammell, who started every game for the Aztecs last season, matched his second-highest scoring effort of the season with 12 points in just his third start of the season.

“It felt good, just to know that I stuck it out,” Trammell said. “Now the time is here, and it’s just be ready for every moment possible and every opportunity.”

The Aztecs have helped themselves by going 19-for-43 (44.2 percent) from 3-point distance in the past two games.

“We shoot like that, we’re going to be a good team,” Dutcher said.

Air Force (8-13, 1-8) is coming off its most one-sided loss of the season, falling 94-56 at Boise State on Saturday.

The Falcons have lost 11 of their past 12 games following a 7-2 start to the season, but their lone win in that recent stretch was a stunning 32-point victory at UNLV on Jan. 23.

The Falcons also have something that San Diego State doesn’t possess, and that’s three players who average better than 15 points a game: Ethan Taylor (15.7), Rytis Petraitis (15.6) and Beau Becker (15.1).

Jeffrey Mills also showed he’s capable of hitting that mark after matching his season high with 17 points in the loss to Boise State.

“What the Mountain West comes down, the teams that are good in this league, they know how to win close games,” Air Force coach Joe Scott said last week.

–Field Level Media

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