1. Continue to find comfort away from home
Brain Dutcher’s team came into the Anaheim Convention Center knowing they were playing on back-to-back nights regardless of how they played against Georgetown. San Diego State left the city limits on Thanksgiving night and played a complete game with stringent defense and smart shot selection.
“I thought we made a step forward as a basketball team today,” remarked Coach Dutcher in Thursday night’s postgame presser. “I said we were going to have a good team, but how soon we would, I don’t know. We’re getting more comfortable.”
After blowing out Georgetown 73-56, they brought along a swagger that seemed lacking through November. The Aztecs went on a 12-2 run to close out the first half and kept Patrick Ewing’s Hoyas from scoring in the field over the game’s final 9 minutes.
The team is moving to its full potential with Matt Bradley at its core.
“Matt Bradley seems to be getting more comfortable with the way we do things,” Dutcher said of his Pac-12 transfer. “[He’s] picking and choosing spots to take the game over at times and, at the same, time being a good teammate and finding open teammates.”
It could have been Bradley’s jersey snafu, but his plus-minus went up +12, a stat he has not been in the positive end since starting his career at San Diego State.
For the team to excel and upset the 24th ranked USC Trojans, the Aztecs must stay in their comfort zone.
2. Put a defender on Boogie Ellis
San Diego State will face off against Mission Bay High alum Boogie Ellis. The four-star recruit was recruited to play at San Diego State for the 2019 season alongside Malachi Flynn and fielded multiple offers from blue-blood programs before enrolling at Memphis under NBA star Penny Hardaway.
After two years in Memphis, he averaged 24.1 minutes per game, 9.1 points per game, and a field goal percentage of 36.6%. In his four games as a Trojan, he’s averaged 29.4 minutes per
game, 17 points per game, and a field goal percentage of 57.1%.
He’s coming off a 17-point performance shooting 8-of-14 from the field in USC’s 15-point beatdown of Saint Joe’s.
For San Diego State, they have to put a body on Boogie Ellis and find the right containment strategy for an Aztec win.
San Diego State’s defense has improved with five days of preparation for the Paycom Wooden Legacy. The Hoyas shot 4-of-20 from the perimeter because SDSU’s defenders are closing out the perimeter.
“They got to our shooters,” said Hoyas head coach Patrick Ewing in the postgame presser. “They didn’t give us any breathing space, we got shots, but we didn’t make them. They made everything tough for us.”
It’s going to take their quick guards in Trey Pulliam and Lamont Butler again to hold their own against Ellis.
3. Capitalize on Lamont Butler improvements
The 6’2” guard from Riverside found a fit in San Diego State’s scheme. Defensively, he has been lights out.
Butler trails his assignments tight, sometimes too tight, as he forced a 3-point shooter last night. He already averages 2.0 steals per game this season, which is 3rd in the Mountain West. Despite only being credited for three steals in the victory of Georgetown, he is disrupting passing lanes and making opponents play sloppy.
But Lamont Butler came off one of his best games as an Aztec, shooting 6-of-6 from the field, 3-of-3 from the arc, scoring the team’s second-high of 16 points. He also became the first SDSU player in at least 26 seasons to post a perfect night shooting from the field with at least six field goal attempts and at least three three-point field goal attempts.
For Friday’s game, Butler needs to commit to being a true-point guard on offense that complements Matt Bradley’s style of play, and that means making assists and drawing defenses in on drives.