SAN DIEGO -- Despite four straight 20-win seasons, San Diego State is still searching for credibility.
The Aztecs took a step in the right direction Saturday with a win over a Top 25 team.Behind Billy White's 19 points and freshman Kawhi Leonard's double-double, San Diego State beat UNLV (No. 25 ESPN/USA Today, No. 23 AP) 68-58.In 40 years at the Division I level, San Diego State (18-7, 7-4 Mountain West Conference) has a record of 15-78 against ranked teams."We are trying to build up our resume," White said of the Aztecs, who are 2-2 this season against Top 25 teams, both wins coming at home. "We are trying to prove to ourselves and everyone else that we can beat anybody in the country."The Aztecs beat No. 15 New Mexico on Jan. 5. It is only the fourth time in school history they have defeated two ranked teams in a season.San Diego State has qualified for the postseason the past four seasons, but only once -- in 2006 -- have the Aztecs gone to the NCAA tournament."This gives us confidence we can close out a game against a quality team," freshman Chase Tapley said.The Aztecs overcame their own poor shooting by blocking eight shots, altering several others and outrebounding the Runnin' Rebels 39-30. Their defense held UNLV to just 35.2 percent shooting, including 3 of 17 from 3-point range."We didn't knock down our shots," said Chace Stanback, who was held to four points, six under this average. "A lot of our shots were contested. They play good defense."When the teams first played at Las Vegas in January, Stanback and Tre'Von Willis combined for 41 points in UNLV's 76-66 win. Willis led the Runnin' Rebels (19-6, 7-4) this time with 17 points, but was just 5 of 15 from the field."Coach (Steve Fisher) told us to try and use our length, so we used our size to our advantage," said Leonard, who finished with 13 points and 14 rebounds for his 12th double-double."I thought we defended in a way that gave us a chance to win," Fisher said. "We contested 3-point shooters. We made it hard for them to get easy looks."White had only five field goals, but was 9 of 11 at the free throw line. The Las Vegas native came in shooting just 61 percent from the line.Tapley and D.J. Gay each added 11 points for San Diego State, which took the lead at 6-5 early in the first half and never trailed again."Billy White had the best game he's played since New Mexico," said Fisher, referring to the Aztecs' upset win over the Lobos when White sprained an ankle early in the game."He was quick and active and going by people," Fisher added. "He was doing things that you win with."After San Diego State controlled the first half, UNLV twice pulled within three points early in the second half before Leonard scored on two straight possessions, including a thundering windmill dunk that ignited the crowd of 9,224.The closest the Runnin' Rebels would get was 46-40 with 11:38 left, but Leonard and White each scored two baskets, including White's dunk that increased San Diego State's lead to 56-44 at the 5:48 mark."We struggled in the first half," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. "We got a little bit of a start in the second half but couldn't quite get back in the lead. They played well and had a lot of firepower."Anthony Marshall added 12 points for UNLV, which has dropped two straight after coming off a 76-66 loss at home against New Mexico on Wednesday."We're not coming out with a lot of enthusiasm," UNLV's Oscar Bellfield said. "It's something we have to work on. It just the way we start out, we have to play catch-up."The Aztecs made a season-high 22 free throws in 31 attempts while shooting 42.6 percent from the field.