At the start of the 2022-23 college basketball season, many Mountain West Conference hoop heads circled Saturday, January 7, 2023 on their calendars. San Diego State versus Wyoming. The MWC preseason picks to top the conference face off in a key, early season test.
Fast forward a few months and one team has nearly lived up to the preseason hype, the Aztecs, while the other has struggled with injuries to star players leading to inconsistent play, numerous lineup changes, and subpar results.
The team from Montezuma Mesa arrives in Laramie 11-3 and ranked #22 in the NET. Wyoming, 5-9, checks in at #204. The Aztecs started conference play with two wins. Wyoming has lost four in row overall, including its first two MWC contests—the most recent being a one point loss to then #22 and undefeated New Mexico.
The Ailing Cowboys
Wyoming’s top two returners and first-team all-conference selections before the season – Graham Ike and Hunter Maldonado – have battled injuries, with Ike, the MWC preseason choice for Player of the Year, yet to see the court for the Cowboys. In fact, Wyoming has used nine different starting lineups in 14 games.
The Cowboys roster received a positive jolt this offseason with the arrival of PAC-12 transfers Ethan Anderson and Max Agbonkpolo from USC and Jake Kyman from UCLA. The team is still waiting for all the pieces to come together this season like it did a year ago in 2021-22. Wyoming finished the year at 25-9 and earned a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
But in a game played on the road, at altitude, between teams that know each other well, records and past performances mean little. For the Aztecs, it’s what they do out on the Arena Auditorium court on Saturday that matters in their quest to hang another MWC championship banner in Viejas Arena.
The Dangerous Matt Bradley
SDSU has fared well on the road recently in conference play. The Aztecs are an amazing 20-5 in their last 25 Mountain West games. The run of success includes last season’s 73-66 victory at Wyoming’s ‘Dome of Doom’ in February.
Despite all the visual intimidation of Laramie’s altitude in the arena, in that game San Diego State was led by an outstanding Matt Bradley stat-packed performance. The Cal transfer guard poured in 30 points, grabbed 5 rebounds and handed out 4 assists in one of his most complete games as an Aztec.
Fellow sharp shooter Adam Seiko pitched in with 3 three-pointers for 9 points and Nathan Mensah cleaned up the boards with 9 rebounds and imposed his defensive player of the year quality with 3 blocks.
Bradley, himself a MWC preseason first-team honoree, has shown flashes of that scoring form in his last two games going off for 27 and then 23 points. The 6’4” senior earned MWC Player of the Week honors for his standout play against the Air Force Academy and UNLV.
After some single-digit scoring efforts, Bradley has found his shooting touch in conference games hitting on 57.7% of his shots overall and a blistering 64.7% from behind the arc.
“When Matt is playing well, we’re playing well,” head coach Brian Dutcher told Darren Smith earlier this week on The Darren Show on San Diego Sports 760. “An aggressive Matt Bradley, a dangerous Matt Bradley makes for a dangerous Aztecs team.”
If Bradley can stay consistent on offense, his play will open up opportunities for others. Senior guard Darrion Trammell is one teammate benefitting from Bradley’s recent good run. The transfer from Seattle University leads the team in scoring at 13.2 points per game, logging three double-digit scoring efforts in his last four games.
As a team, San Diego State has made double-digit threes in five games this season, including the last three games in a row. Not surprisingly, the Aztecs have won all five games.
Against UNLV, the Aztecs also received an outstanding performance from fifth-year senior Aguek Arop. The forward totaled 12 points on 6 of 7 shooting against the Rebels. A force on the boards throughout his Aztecs career, Arop pulled down 5 boards in his 23 minutes of play.
The play of reserves Arop, Seiko, Jaedon LeDee and Micah Parrish off the bench will be important as SDSU battles against the effects of altitude and a Wyoming team hungry to get its first conference win.
The game against Wyoming will be televised nationally by CBS and on the radio at San Diego Sports 760. Tip-off is set for 1:00 p.m.