Brian Dutcher’s Aztecs Hit Their Toughest Part of the Schedule—on the Road vs Utah State

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On a rare Friday evening home game, San Diego State turned in, arguably, it’s most complete game of the season. In beating Boise State 72-52, the Aztecs dominated play early and raced to a 22-point halftime lead.

The Aztecs defense kept the Broncos at just 21 points at the half. Even more encouraging was seeing the team hold its intensity and focus for most of the second half in cruising to the 20-point victory.

Senior forward Nathan Mensah led the way with an impressive 17 points, six rebounds and two blocks. His aggressive play in the paint drew a ridiculous 10 fouls on Broncos defenders. And he made them pay, keeping them in foul trouble.

The reigning MWC Defensive Player of the Year, not particularly known for his free throw shooting prowess, hit 9 of his 12 attempts from the line and has swished a career high 72% on 40 of 55 attempts on the season.

The win lifted the Aztecs, ranked #25 in this week’s AP poll, into sole possession of first place in the tight Mountain West Conference title chase. At 9-2, the “Sons” of Montezuma Mesa lead a trio of teams – Boise State, Nevada and Utah State – in second place by one game. 

Which makes Wednesday night’s affair in Logan, Utah the latest “got-to-have-it” game of the season. 

In the first meeting between these two teams in January, SDSU delivered another impressive first half for the Viejas faithful. Coach Dutcher’s team cooled off the hot-shooting Aggies with smothering perimeter defense, allowing only 27 points to the visitors in the first half. 

But the MWC’s second-best scoring offense found its shooting touch after intermission as Utah State struck for 48 points in half number two. SDSU weathered the offensive rush and put the game away hitting their last six free throw attempts, securing the 85-75 win. 

Super senior Adam Seiko was unconscious from the bonus distance draining seven three pointers, six in the first half, finishing with a career-high 25 points. Keshad Johnson set the defensive tone early with a highlight-reel block of a dunk attempt.

The junior forward carried that momentum to his second consecutive double double with 11 points and 10 rebounds and has been ever so consistent in his aggressiveness and impact on the game since.

For the game, the Aztecs held Utah State’s leading scorer, guard Steven Ashworth (15.9 points per game), to only eight points. Graduate forward Taylor Funk picked up the slack for the Aggies in the first match up pouring in 22 points and grabbing four rebounds. Senior guard Sean Bairstow and senior forward Dan Akin contributed 15 points each in the loss, with Akin’s 10 boards leading his team. 

The Second Go Round

But this Wednesday the Aggies enter the game as the top 3-point shooting team in the country at 41.8%. They hit 18 threes in the win at Colorado State on Saturday.

In Ashworth, Utah State boasts the top 3-point shooter in the MWC, and #3 in the country, hitting on 47.5% of his shots beyond the arc. Despite his sub-par performance against the Aztecs the first time, Ashworth has not let that one game slow him down.

Watch the latest Sons of Montezuma Podcast taking a look at Utah State and all that’s going on in SDSU Basketball.

On the flip-side, Aztec guard Seiko does not have enough attempts to qualify or his 50.6 3-point shooting percentage would place him second in the country. Such a shame for our accomplished super-senior representing Uganda’s national team.

With five players continuing to average in double figures in points per game, the Aggies present a challenge at the offensive end. But are the Aztecs up to the task just one game removed from their poor defensive performance against Nevada on the road?

SDSU will need to bring a much more coordinated effort on defense than we saw in their last road contest.

Nevada hurt the Aztecs from the outside, in the paint and at the free throw line to pull away late in the game, scoring on 14 of their final 15 possessions. A sight not often seen against an SDSU defense.

The Aztecs can’t afford to let Ashworth and Funk get hot as usual from the outside. The two combined to make 11 threes against the Rams. SDSU defenders must work together to fight over screens or switch when required, while being mindful of planned defensive rotations to avoid leaving Aggie shooters open.

SDSU also needs to defend without fouling. The Utah State marksmen are second in the conference in free throw shooting at 75.7%, with Ashworth connecting on a sizzling 87% of his shots from the charity stripe. 

Making Plays on the Road

For the Aztecs to leave Utah with another key road victory, Trammell and Butler will need to continue their strong playmaking of late. Against Boise State, the two went for 12 assists total against only four turnovers.

The duo set up their teammates for good looks at the rim and on the perimeter. One area in particular that Trammell has thrived in on the season is here in his playmaking ability. On the season, Trammell ranks #3 in the MWC in assist-to-turnover ratio. 

When these two experienced guards facilitating good ball movement and aggressively attacking off the dribble, the offense generates a visible rhythm and flow. It’s what teams looking to make a deep tournament run rely on to survive and advance. That, and a suffocating defense, of course.

The task at hand of making plays on the road this season isn’t lost on head coach Brian Dutcher. On SDSU’s flagship radio station AM760, while on the DSmith Show this week, Dutcher revealed, “This is where you want to be playing your best basketball. We have the toughest part of our schedule on the road.”

While admitting the victory over Boise State was as close to a must-win as you could get, Dutcher further explained, “This is the time you get nervous and need to win games if you want to make the NCAA tournament in March.”

“They’re (Utah State) gonna be very good on their home floor. They’ve lost one game all year there. I believe the only (Dutcher coached) team that won in there was the 30-2 team. So we’re gonna have to be very good.”

Commanding a winning scheme all season long through the ups and downs is not small challenge. With so much information to look at in conference play, a coach has to lead his team to face an opponent twice—maybe even three times a season.

The Net rankings matter most because that’s what determines the NCAA Tournament seeding. Whatever determines that, that’s the one we want to be high on.”

When asked wether he would want to be a part of the coaches committee that votes in on the coaches poll, Dutcher admittedly replied with an honest, “No, not really”.

“I’m so locked in on our team in the Mountain West, I’m not really watching a lot of these teams. You have to really pay attention. To actually say all these coaches are putting eyes on these teams I think would be a bit unrealistic. Teams are so focused on their own team and their next game.

SDSU’s next game is on the road in Logan, Utah vs. Utah State. Tip-off is set for 7:00 pm PT and can be found on CBS Sports Network and San Diego Sports 760.

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