It's 80 degrees, a picture-perfect day in southern California, and San Diego State coach Steve Fisher – understandably – doesn't have much to complain about.

In his 15th season, Fisher has his 11th-ranked Aztecs at 15-1, nationally relevant and a potential Final Four contender. He lost a bit from last year's team, but as Fisher has proven time and time again, it's never wise to bet against this coach.

Especially when he's found the right pieces, as he's done once again. He added transfer Josh Davis from Tulane, an integral post player who's averaging nearly a double-double. Point guard Xavier Thames, finally healthy, is producing significantly more than last year and has become an early favorite for Mountain West player of the year. The rest of the Aztec cast has contributed at key times offensively – and all the time defensively.

Through the season's first two months, San Diego State has racked up wins over three then-ranked teams – Creighton, Marquette and, most recently, Kansas.

Fisher sat down with USA TODAY Sports college basketball reporter Nicole Auerbach earlier this week to discuss the defensive identity of his 15-1 Aztecs, the Fab Five and a special mentor.

Q: Let's start with the Kansas game, a big win for San Diego State in a nationally televised game at Allen Fieldhouse earlier this month. What did that game mean for your team?

A: What it did and what I thought it'd do … it heightens the national awareness of who we are. People back east – east of the Mississippi, and the Midwest – people rarely see us play live. Late start times and all of that. But all of them had the opportunity to see that because it was on a Sunday afternoon. Those that watched – and I'm sure there were many of them – saw that this wasn't being done with smoke and mirrors. This is a really good team that can match up physically with a Kansas. If you can match up physically with a Kansas, you can match up with anybody. I think it cemented the fact that, 'Hey, this is a good team.' If you look at the history – hey, this is a program. This is not just a team that plays in a lesser league that has a record that doesn't embody who they are compared to the bluebloods of the world. We are what we say we are. We are a program who can play with anyone.

Q: Maybe it's a media/outsider thing, and we shouldn't be surprised when you exceed expectations. As you said, you're a program and showing it by sustaining success.

A: When Duke and Kentucky and Carolina lose all their points and rebounds, people say, 'Well, they're Duke and Kentucky and Carolina. They're supposed to be good, and they'll be good no matter whether they lose 15, 10, everybody.' That's what we hope we can be. That's what we've proven we can do. Even when we've lost a lot – this year from last year – and two years ago from our 34-3 team, we still had NCAA tournament teams. We still won 26 games and 23 games. We're relevant. We feel we are that. To do what very few have done playing at Kansas – I think they said since '06 since a non-conference team had beaten them – it was a significant win in a whole lot of ways. Perception-wise outside of here and internally, to say again to ourselves, we not only have talked about what we can do, we've done it.

Q: Your team's defense is one of the most efficient in the nation (12th, per the latest numbers, allowing 92.1 points per 100 possessions against the average D-I offense). Being a good defensive team isn't flashy, but how important has it been to what you have done here this season and over the last few years?

A: We're like everybody that says, how do you want to be viewed? What do you want to build your program around? You've got to be able to guard. You've got to be able to rebound. We preach that. We have emphasized it, which is the important thing. Not just talk about it. We've made it a point of emphasis in practice, maybe more than anyone else in the country. It's paid dividends not just this year, but over our tenure. But now we have some pretty gaudy statistics about what they've been able to do defensively, so it kind of embellishes who we are from that perspective. Our kids like that. We talk about, 'OK, here's where we'd like to be. Can you hold defenses to under 35% from the field? Can you be the best defensive team in the history of San Diego State, statistically?' We weren't as good with 3-point defense last year. We have to do this to get better. We talk about it as we move along. … It's a topic of discussion. If you want to be good – and if you want to play – you've got to be in the group that's going to be an asset rather than a liability.

Q: It's interesting, maybe because of AAU or whatever, but I feel like nowadays there are a lot of players who come to college who aren't as interested in playing defense. You have guys who are older and seem to understand its value.

A: Anybody who goes anywhere wants to play. They initially come in thinking, if I can score, I can play. They find out if they can guard, they'll play. They all want to play, so they'll improve in practice. … They want to get on the floor. They want to stay on the floor. So, they don't want to give up two back cuts for layups or not box out and get themselves taken out of the game. They want to be part of the solution, to why we are so good defensively. We've got enough veterans, guys that have been here before, to send that message to the younger guys and to the new guys. This is what we have to do. Xavier Thames is a fifth-year senior, three-year starter. J.J. O'Brien is a fourth-year junior, two-year starter. Even though Josh Davis is in his first year here, he's a fifth-year senior that knows what you have to do, the value in rebounding. I think we've got a good group of guys with a culture of saying, this is who we are.

Q: You have played both Arizona and Kansas. Lots of people are talking about those teams, especially Arizona as a national title contender. I know you played them early (a 69-60 loss) but what did you see out of them?

A: They came in here, and when the game ended – even before that, you watch tape on them – I said, 'This is a team that could be as good as anyone in the country.' This was before they had the No. 1 ranking and won 18 games in a row. You play against them, and they're a hard team to guard. They're so athletic. They've got their rotation. They don't have to play kids minutes just to play them. They're immensely talented, and they're driven by their veteran players. The transfer from Duquesne (T.J. McConnell) and (Nick) Johnson are really, really good and smart players. Aaron Gordon is every bit as good as they say he is. Our home crowd helped us in that game. We were down 12, 13, and our crowd didn't quit. We got within four. It was helpful playing them at home. We learned something from that. They beat us up on the boards. We pride ourselves in being a really good rebounding team. They knocked us around like we were high schoolers. That helped us against Creighton, Kansas, that experience. We were more mentally and physically prepared for those kinds of athletes.

Q: I've heard great things about your home crowd, that home-court advantage, from other former Mountain West players.

A: We have as good a home crowd as anybody in the country. I've taken teams to Duke. We've done the circuit of the Big Ten. Our crowd is really, really good. We've sold out now for the second straight year. We played 16,000 at Kansas. We came back on Wednesday and played Boise State. School was not in session. Every seat in the building was filled. They were loud. Our crowd is led by our students. They've been good.

Q: You've been here at San Diego State for some time. (Fisher is in his 15th season.) Things like getting great crowds, home-and-homes with Kansas – are these things that were goals when you first got here? When you look back at your decision to come here and what you wanted to build, what were your goals?

A: Like everybody, the grand prize is getting to the NCAA tournament and winning a national championship. You can't win unless you get in. We were starting at a pretty low spot. We weren't any good. We had no tradition to speak of. So we sold anything we could sell to get people coming to games. We did it one little piece at a time. my first year, I spoke at like 78 different groups, from small, 7 a.m. coffee groups of 20 people to the national rotary of 350 people. Anything in between, to create an interest. The pulpit I preached from when I first got here was where I'd been. Everyone I talked to wanted to know about the Fab Five. We made that a talking point. I also said, if four years from now with 'the Fab Five,' we aren't doing enough here now.

Fortunately for us, we've grown to where that can be a sidebar. The first thing they talk about is the atmosphere of this building – everyone raves about it … they want to talk about having gone to the NCAA tournament four years in a row. They want to talk about 2010-11 and 34-3. We won our first-ever NCAA tournament game that year. We got to the Sweet 16 and could have won a national championship; we were that good. Connecticut beat us as you know and went on to win it. We were good enough to win a national championship. To have said that in 1999, they would have laughed you out of the building. We said, hey, we want to build a program. One brick at a time. Locally recruit. Move up the 5 and the 405. Get the best in California and branch out as we need to branch out.

We've been able to do that. It didn't happen overnight. We won five games my first year. It took a year and a half to win a road game. We knew we had to be patient to some extent. But we were impatient – get out and go, work hard to create an interest. We've been successful doing it.