SAN DIEGO -- The San Diego State University men's basketball team tips off the Mountain West Conference tournament Thursday with plans of playing three games over three days.

Thanks to Randy Shelton, their new strength and conditioning coach, they believe they are more ready than ever for the challenge.

In his first year, Shelton has helped the Aztecs fly to heights never before reached in SDSU history: a school record 29 wins and a share of the Mountain West Conference regular season championship.

The Aztecs earned the #2 seed in the MWC tournament and face 7th-seed Utah Thursday night at 6 p.m. at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas. The winner advances to the semifinals Friday against either Air Force or UNLV.

"The analogy I like to compare it to is, I'm given a Ferrari, meaning the team, and my job is not to crash it," Shelton said. "So, I'm just focusing really on injury-prevention and making sure the guys stay very flexible."

Shelton started working with the Aztecs last September, using his football background to help the players add strength and stamina so that they peak at tournament time. His workouts are fast-paced, focusing on functional strength that carries over to the basketball court.

"At the end of last season, we were dead tired," said Aztecs' senior forward Billy White. "This year, we are ready to go.

"It's mental toughness, too. He prepares us for that," said White. "He just pushes us and it's going to help in the long run."

Shelton's prized pupil, MWC first-team point guard D.J. Gay, actually came to Shelton three years ago at his gym, High Voltage Fitness in La Jolla. Shelton created a program to help Gay play all-out, non-stop for 40 minutes - something he has done six times this season.

"(Gay's) training is at a level not seen at any level," Shelton said. "He is extremely smart. He knows what it takes to be great and I think you guys are seeing that this year."

Head Coach Steve Fisher has called Gay the best-conditioned athlete he's ever coached, and he has similar praise for Shelton's work with his team.

"I believe we are the best-conditioned we've been in 12 years and as good as or better than anybody in our league," Fisher said. "We're stronger. (Shelton's) done a great job and our kids have enjoyed working with him."

The Aztecs are the defending MWC tournament champions and have reached the title game in each of the past two seasons. Last year, they beat UNLV for an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament.