SAN DIEGO -- Xavier Thames and a decided advantage at the free-throw line saved San Diego State once again.
Thames scored 18 points on 3-of-14 shooting, helping 10th-ranked SDSU beat UNLV 63-52 on Saturday for its 15th straight victory.
There was tough defense by both teams as well as some ugly shots.
"They beat us three in a row coming into this game," Aztecs coach Steve Fisher said. "We were determined that we were going to protect home turf and they were determined to give us our first loss, and it was dealt with that way.
"I think it was not just us. I think it was Vegas, the mentality the Vegas kids had, too. When somebody got knocked down, they didn't jump up wanting to push or punch. They just played, and we did the same thing."
Josh Davis added 14 points and 14 rebounds for SDSU (16-1, 5-0 Mountain West), which hasn't lost since its second game, a 69-60 home defeat against Arizona, which is now ranked No. 1.
Bryce Dejean-Jones scored 15 points, Deville Smith had 13 and Roscoe Smith 11 for UNLV (11-7, 2-3) which had won eight of its previous 10 games, including a big victory at New Mexico on Wednesday.
While Thames had a rough night from the field, he made 11 of 12 free throws, including four in the final 1:03. SDSU was 21 of 27 from the foul line, compared to 8 for 11 for UNLV.
In Wednesday night's 68-60 victory against Fresno State, Thames had 28 points and SDSU made 26 of 41 free throws while Fresno State was 11 of 15.
"It was a very competitive game, as all the games have between San Diego State and our team," UNLV coach Dave Rice said. "The difference in the game came down to they made more free throws than we did. They were able to get to the free-throw line and we weren't. Final tally is we lost by 11 and they beat us by 13 at the free-throw line."
Otherwise, it was largely a defensive struggle. SDSU shot just 33.9 percent (20 of 59) while the Runnin' Rebels hit only 30 percent (21 of 70).
"This was a really, really good win for us against a team that in a lot of ways mirrors us with their length and athleticism, how they want to play, how hard they play," Fisher said. "It was hard-fought, lot of tough defense and two teams that really, I think, respect one another, but want to beat one another."
Fisher said SDSU's defense in the first half was as good as it gets, helping the Aztecs take a 34-20 lead.
"We just dug ourselves too deep a hole in the first half," he said. "It's hard against a terrific team like San Diego State to dig yourselves into a hole. I thought we battled for the entire game. I think there were times when we settled probably for tough jump shots. When one team holds the other one to 30 percent and the other one shoots 34 percent, it's two pretty good defensive team battling. They just made a few more plays than we did."
The Aztecs were up by 10 midway through the second half before UNLV closed to 50-45 when Deville Smith scored on a nice spin move. The Aztecs responded with one free throw apiece by Winston Shepard and Josh Davis, and a slam dunk by JJ O'Brien to make it 54-45 with 4:02 to go.
Davis and O'Brien each made big shots down the stretch to help the Aztecs stay in front, and Thames hit those four big free throws at the end.
The Runnin' Rebels scored six straight points in the second half to close to 44-38, but the Aztecs then had consecutive alley-oops from Spencer and Davis to re-take a 10-point lead and fire up the crowd at Viejas Arena.
After a ragged start by both teams, SDSU went on a 19-2 run to take a 28-11 lead with just more than three minutes left in the first half.
Aqeel Quinn scored five straight points on a layup and a 3-pointer and Thames had a jumper to cap a 13-point burst by the Aztecs. After Roscoe Smith hit two foul shots for UNLV, Skylar Spencer had two baskets sandwiched around another Thames jumper.
UNLV responded by scoring seven straight points, including consecutive buckets by Dejean-Jones -- one of them a slam dunk after a steal -- and a 3-pointer by Kevin Olekaibe.
SDSU scored six of the final eight points, including Thames' 3-pointer with 42 seconds left, to take a 34-20 halftime lead.