SDSU Matches Up With UCSD in Christmas-Week Clash

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San Diego State looks to keep its home unbeaten streak alive this week with a game against not-yet-crosstown rivals UCSD. The Aztecs, 6-0 at home thus far this season, and Tritons tip off at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, December 20. This will be the Red & Black’s only game this week.

The Aztecs (#25 in KenPom ratings) come into the contest with a record of 8-3 on the year. After several high leverage games versus teams with NCAA tournament aspirations, SDSU gets a UCSD (5-6) team still finding its way in Division I. The 2022-2023 season marks only the Triton’s third time competing at this level following some dominant seasons in Division II. 

UCSD, like SDSU’s earlier opponents UC Irvine and Cal State Fullerton, plays in the Big West Conference. Pre-season predictions slotted the Tritons for a 10th-place conference finish. 

The Tritons were routed by USD 84-58 on December 12, but arrive at Montezuma Mesa fresh off a pasting of Occidental College Saturday night.

Local product Bryce Pope poured in 20 points in leading UCSD to the 91-55 win. The score closely resembled the Aztecs’ 95-57 triumph over Occidental on December 2.

Pope, a 6’3” junior guard from Torrey Pines High School, was the 2019 San Diego CIF Player of the Year. He leads UCSD in scoring at 18.6 points per game with a season-high of 31 in a road win over George Washington in November. Pope’s twin brother Mike played briefly at SDSU. 

Last season, Bryce led UCSD with 10 points as the Tritons lost to the Aztecs 78-57 in a late December contest. Aztecs big man Nathan Mensah enjoyed one of his best games of the season against the Tritons scoring 19 points and grabbing 9 rebounds. Matt Bradley and Keshad Johnson tallied 13 points apiece, while Adam Seiko chipped in 11.

UCSD coach Eric Olen brought in 7’0” center Emmanuel Tshimanga from UC Irvine to shore up the team’s inside game. The junior center from Montreal, Canada leads UCSD in rebounding with 7.8 a game. The Triton big collected 12 boards in his side’s win over Occidental.

The battle down low between Mensah and Tshimanga should be a good one to watch. It will be important for Mensah to defend without fouling as his presence is a key part of SDSU’s vaunted team defense. 

The Aztecs will be a well-rested group as they took some much-needed time off after the December 12 win over Kennesaw State. SDSU will look to use the game against UCSD to further refine its offensive identity and tighten defensive rotations.

It was refreshing to see the Aztecs briefly break out a 1-3-1 half-court defense in the game last week. The defensive wrinkle should not only be an effective change of pace, but gives Mountain West Conference foes an additional alignment to concern themselves with.

On offense, Seattle University transfer Darrion Trammell has been a consistent spark on the offensive end, as expected. The 5’10” guard leads the Aztecs in scoring at 12.7 points per game.

Bradley is the only other SDSU player with a double-figure scoring average checking in at 11.5 points a game. Additionally, Trammell has showcased playmaking ability as evidenced by his 3.6 assists per game which leads the team. Backcourt mate Lamont Butler is a tick behind at 3.2 assists a game.

While the team is shooting 46.2% overall and only 32.6% from 3-point range, senior guard Adam Seiko is shooting a hot 44.8% from beyond the arc. SDSU needs to continue to run Seiko off multiple screens to get him open looks from deep.

Mensah remains a strong presence in the post and switching screens out front. The senior leads the team with 6.2 rebounds a game and has already racked up 16 blocks on the season.

Tuesday’s game against UCSD (#294 in KenPom) is one the Aztecs should win, and win handily. It provides an excellent opportunity to work on a variety of offensive and defensive elements ahead of MWC play beginning on December 28 against the Air Force Academy at Viejas Arena.

Count on head coach Brian Dutcher and his staff having the Aztecs ready for the other team from across the city.

The game against UCSD can be found on FS1 and on the radio at San Diego Sports 760. 

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