Throughout California, officials have warned about the negative impacts of the ongoing drought. San Diego State men’s basketball fans share drought concerns – their team’s reoccurring scoring droughts, that is.
In its last two games, remarkably both wins, the Aztecs have endured sustained scoreless streaks. Against Colorado State on the road it was a nearly 10-minute drought without a made basket. Saturday, against the usual small Air Force Academy roster, SDSU went 7:10 without being able to score a bucket.
Read that again – over seven minutes without a made field goal against Air Force!
Long scoring droughts could be disastrous in the Aztec’s next game, Wednesday evening at 8:00 p.m. when SDSU hosts the Utah State Aggies.
The Aggies come to Viejas fresh off a narrow escape against the Spartans of San Jose State on Saturday. The team from Logan, Utah trailed by six with under five minutes to go in the game and rallied to pull out the home victory, 75-74.
The win moves Utah State to 16-4 overall and 5-2 in the Mountain West Conference. The Aggies currently jockeying for position in a long line of teams for 2nd place (Nevada, Boise State, New Mexico).
Steven Ashworth, Utah State’s leading scorer, tallied 19 against SJSU and added six assists. But it was junior guard Max Shulga who provided the clutch free throws with five seconds left to seal the win.
Shulga finished with 15 points. The Aggies also benefitted from senior forward Dan Akin’s 13 points and seven rebounds off the bench in holding off the surprising Spartans.
In Utah State, the Aztecs will face one of the best offensive teams in the country. The Aggies average 80.6 points per game (second in the MWC to New Mexico), shoot 49% overall from the field and nearly 43% from beyond the arc (tops in the nation).
The Aggies may be paced by Ashworth’s 15.7 points per game, but not to be overlooked are four other Aggies also average in double figures.
By contrast, SDSU scores five points less per game and only offers three players with double digit scoring averages. The Aztecs, on the season, are shooting 45% overall and only 35.7% from the three-point distance.
At the other end of the court, Coach Dutcher’s team has not played as stoutly on defense as they have in recent years. Heading into Wednesday’s game, SDSU ranks fifth in scoring defense in the MWC and only eighth in opponent field goal percentage. Last season, the Aztecs finished tops in the conference in both defensive categories.
Heading into Wednesday’s game, SDSU ranks fifth in scoring defense in the MWC
And yet, SDSU sits alone in first place in this ultra-competitive conference with a 6-1 record, 15-4 overall.
Nearly 20 games into its season, SDSU has demonstrated one critical aspect important to sustained success – this team will do whatever it takes to compete and win a game.
Some days the key ingredient is the scoring of starting guards Matt Bradley, Lamont Butler, or Darrion Trammell. In other games it’s the play off the bench of Adam Seiko or Micah Parrish that makes a huge difference.
In some games the Aztecs thrive in the front court with Jaedon LeDee, Aguek Arop (seven boards against AFA), Nathan Mensah and Keshad Johnson (10 rebounds against AFA) dominating the glass and blocking shots.
The defense, which has occasionally struggled with dribble penetration and giving up open threes, has come up huge in late game situations when a stop was necessary to maintain a lead.
In its most recent win at the Air Force Academy, SDSU leaned on an entirely shocking performance at the free throw line. A show of hands if you had the Aztecs hitting 22 of 23 shots from the charity stripe. Seeing no hands, we move on.
What will fans witness as the Aztecs and Aggies battle for the early lead in the conference championship chase? I’m afraid I have more questions than answers.
Will Johnson continue to be a rebounding machine and grab at least seven boards as he has done in the last three games?
Will Bradley put up big scoring numbers, or will he be an effective distributor as he was with seven assists in the win at Colorado State?
Perhaps Arop will continue to be the do-everything-it-takes-to-win fifth-year senior that Coach Dutcher has relied on heavily this season.
Maybe Trammell can shoot his way out of his current 1-14 streak on threes.
Can Butler hit double digits in points as he has done in four of the last five games?
These last two questions are what many will be focused on as this game may come down to one key. Can the home team avoid prolonged scoring droughts in order to give its defense enough support against one of the conference’s best offensive teams?
If SDSU’s guards can make shots or feed the bigs for paint points, the Aztecs should be able to put a little more distance between themselves and the pack of teams on their heels in the Mountain West Conference title race.
The SDSU vs. Utah State tips off at 8:00 pm local time and be found on CBS Sports Network and San Diego Sports 760.