SAN DIEGO — When its first possession began with a turnover and its second included a pair of blocked shots, the San Diego State basketball team got the message early.
Texas El Paso had no intention of becoming the Aztecs' second upset victim in a row.
"The Miners came in ready," said Jim Brandenburg, SDSU coach. "They weren't about to just come in here and lay down and let us beat them. If we're going to do the job, we have to play our best game. And that wasn't in the cards."
Instead, the Miners dealt the Aztecs a 75-53 Western Athletic Conference loss Saturday night in front of a season-high 4,077 at the San Diego Sports Arena.
This game bore no resemblance to SDSU's 64-59 victory over No. 18 New Mexico two nights earlier.
"Two different days, two different basketball teams," Brandenburg said. "We probably played as poorly in this game as we did well Thursday night."
The Aztecs (7-8, 1-3 in the WAC) shot poorly, allowed the Miners' pressure defense to force turnovers that led to easy baskets and opened with their worst half of the season.
"They drove right at us, penetrated right around us," Brandenburg said. "We just didn't react."
Junior center Mitch McMullen led the Aztecs in scoring for the third consecutive game. McMullen had season highs of 20 points and 9 rebounds.
UTEP (15-2, 4-0) was led by Chris Sandle's 23 points.
If there was any carryover from the elation of Thursday's victory against New Mexico, it didn't show.
SDSU trailed, 35-18, at halftime, but it could have been much worse had UTEP not started slowly itself.
The Miners committed eight turnovers and were outrebounded, 20-16, in the first half.
SDSU's 18 points represented its lowest output for a half this season, easily undercutting the 25 points it scored in the first half of an 83-56 loss at Utah Jan. 7.
Almost every deficiency that had hindered the Aztecs this season showed up against the Miners.
SDSU made only 8 of 21 free throws, committed 17 turnovers (11 in the first half) and shot a season-low 28% (7 of 25) in the first half despite taking only six shots outside the lane.
Brandenburg called three timeouts in the half in an effort to slow the destruction, but it was of no use.
So upset was Brandenburg with the play of forwards Sam Johnson and Caldin Rogers that he played Neal Steinly, a seldom-used freshman, and even tried a three-guard lineup later in the half.
Even forward Rodney Hawkins, who had been the team's steadying influence, was held to 10 points on 5-of-13 shooting. He also had a difficult time guarding Sandle.
"I had trouble with him last year, too," Hawkins said. "He faked me and I went for it. It was my fault. I just played poorly.
"I got frustrated out there, and I let that bother me."
Sandle, who has come on to lead the Miners in scoring after sitting out the first eight games for disciplinary reasons, said the Miners did not plan to work the ball to him; it just happened that way.
Asked if had an edge on Hawkins, Sandle said with a laugh: "Maybe he's scared of me."
Certainly the Aztecs were bothered by something, primarily the Miners' defense.
"We didn't handle their pressure at key times," Brandenburg said. "They clearly are the best defensive team in the league."
The Aztecs trailed by only 12-9 after the first seven minutes, but the Miners outscored the Aztecs, 23-9, to take their 35-18 halftime lead.
SDSU did rally to start the second half with the help of three three-point shots by Tony Ross, making it 39-31 with 16:47 left in the game. But UTEP Coach Don Haskins brought in guard Terry Stallworth to shut down Ross. Ross made only one field goal the rest of the game, and the Aztecs could get no closer.