San Diego State boasted a 4-0 record and sat in first place in the Mountain West Conference as recently as a week ago.

But after two close losses — at BYU and at home against UNLV — the Aztecs are suddenly looking up at the Cougars and Rebels in the standings.

"We're desperate for a win," said SDSU coach Steve Fisher.

Such is the MWC race, where there is little margin for error in most games.

"There's not much difference between winning four in a row and losing four in a row," Fisher said. "We had the ball with 30 seconds to go with the chance to win at BYU. It didn't happen. We had two shots. We're crying 'foul' and they cried, 'Play on.' It's that close. We hung on for an overtime victory against Utah (two weeks ago) at home. You have to play well and you have to get a little bit lucky.

"You have to be able to make plays," he said. "The thing I like about our team is the toughness we've displayed. In every game, we've put ourselves in a position to win down the homestretch. If you do that often enough, you'll win your fair share of them."

UNLV coach Lon Kruger is pleased with the way his team is performing to this point despite losing four starters from a team that reached the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 last season. He acknowledges that his current squad needs to improve in some areas.

"The last few games, we've settled a little more into what each needs to do and trusting each to do that," said Kruger, whose team crushed BYU earlier this month, 70-41, at the Thomas & Mack Center. "We've been streaky in terms of shooting — that's not unusual. We need to be more consistent.

"We don't have much margin. That's what this group understands. We've got to line up and battle in every game. If we can win one, we'll feel good about it and figure out how to win another one. We're not going to consistently blow people out every night."

NEW VS. OLD: Maybe it's coincidence. Or maybe it should be expected.

At any rate, four of the five teams with .500 or worse records in MWC play are led by first-year coaches, while four of the five teams with winning records in league games are guided by coaches who have been around the conference for a while.

UNLV (4-1), BYU (4-1), San Diego State (4-2) and TCU (3-2) — each of which has had the same coach for at least three years — are a combined 15-6. New Mexico (3-3), Utah (2-3), Wyoming (1-5) and Colorado State (0-5) — each of which has a first-year coach — are a combined 6-16.

Air Force, which has first-year coach Jeff Reynolds, is 3-2 heading into tonight's matchup with BYU.

Coaches vs. Cancer MWC coaches and their assistants will put on sneakers on Saturday as part of their game-day attire along with their suits and ties.

It's all in support of the Coaches vs. Cancer coalition between the National Association of Basketball Coaches and the American Cancer Society. MWC coaches will join their counterparts around the country in taking part in the program. The goal is to raise awareness about the fight against cancer and the importance of nutrition and physical activity in reducing people's risk of the disease.

Also, game officials will use blue whistles this weekend in the "Calling for a Cure" promotion.

Around the league Home teams boast a 17-7 record in MWC play to this point, with Air Force (2-0), BYU (3-0), TCU (2-0) and UNLV (2-0) each sporting undefeated records against league opponents at home. ... Nine of the 10 leading scorers in the MWC are juniors, led by Colorado State's Marcus Walker (18.0 ppg). Overall, the junior class makes up 13 of the league's top 20 scoring averages. ... MWC teams have a combined 92-19 record in contests in which they hold a halftime lead this season.

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