3 Keys to an SDSU victory over UC San Diego

Credit: Don De Mars/ EVT Sports

Credit: Don De Mars/ EVT Sports
1. Preparation and perspiration finally meet.
It took nine days of rest between opponents for San Diego State to notch one last marquee non-conference win. The Aztecs beat St. Mary’s because role players like Trey Pulliam and Adam Seiko stepped up on offense. Besides Matt Bradley’s 14 points, Pulliam and Seiko contributed 15 and 12 points respectively.
“At some level, when you work so hard, you have to be rewarded, or you start to doubt the process,” coach Brian Dutcher said in Friday night’s press conference. “I can only tell them so often to keep working hard, and good things will happen. I think they see that all their energy, all their effort, has been rewarded.” Because of the increased playing time, Pulliam’s points per game have increased over his career at SDSU. Through December, Pulliam is averaging 11.3 points per game, 3.2 rebounds per game, and 3.6 assists per game.
Seiko has been a career streaky shooter, averaging 3.2 points per game with a 39.7% field goal percentage. Yet, Seiko’s 12 points against the Gaels came exclusively on 3-pointers and scored 10+ points in back-to-back games for the first time in his career.
“It’s not rewarded every time you step on the floor,” Coach Dutcher said of his team. “But if you stay with the process, you work hard. You pay the price to win. Then you’re going to be rewarded most of the time.”
 
The Aztecs have relied on their defense to win their non-conference games. In their losses to BYU, USC, and Michigan, the offense did not travel with them. San Diego State has strived to resolve its offensive inefficiencies during practice, and now the results are starting to show dividends.
 
For Wednesday night’s matchup, the Aztecs need to ride their success and not ease up because they are playing the UC school across town.

 
2. Take UC San Diego seriously.
 
The Aztecs have played the UC San Diego Tritons as exhibition games in the past, most recently in October 2019. The Tritons have since jumped to Division-I athletics and joined the Big West Conference in 2020. This meeting will count towards the record books come tournament time for both teams.
 
UCSD has already notched an early upset, beating Cal on their home court behind the efforts of Toni Rocak. The 6-foot-8, 220lb forward scored 27 points, shooting 61.5% from the field with eight rebounds, one assist, one steal, and one block.
 
The international player from Switzerland idolizes former NBA great Toni Kukoc, not only because of their Croatian roots but because of their grind and swagger. Rocak played at DIvision-II Regis College college, playing down low in the post.
Credit: Don De Mars/ EVT Sports
 
Like the Aztec’s own overseas-born player, Joshua Tomaic, Rocak wanted to shed his identity as a post-player and transition to a program that would let him play more face-up and on the wings, much like his idol Toni Kukoc.
 
The Aztecs have to make him stay down low and go up against Nathan Mensah, who has been an aggressive rim protector all season. If Rocak is on the wings, San Diego State can match up well with Keshad Johnson from the jump and mix in with Aguek Arop off the bench.
 
According to his UCSD bio Rocak “claims to make the best crepes in California.”
 
The Aztecs can’t let the man cook.
 
3. No bad losses here.
 
Premier bracketologists have the Aztecs missing the tournament. Jerry Palm of CBS projects Colorado State as the lone Mountain West representative while Joe Lunardi of ESPN calculates Colorado State firmly in and Utah State on the bubble as a participant in the First Four games in Dayton.
 
Of note, Palm nor Lunardi have not updated their predictions since the Aztecs’ victory over St. Mary’s. But taking a bad loss tomorrow night would not benefit San Diego State.
 
UC San Diego’s current NET ranking at 210 puts them squarely as a Quad 4 opponent. Former Aztec home opponents, UC Riverside, Arizona State, and Cal State Fullerton are currently Quad 3 victories.
 
Taking a bad non-conference loss here would not be beneficial. The last time SDSU took a bad non-conference loss was during the 2018-2019 season, where there wasn’t just one bad loss, but two. There was an away loss to Cal, who rostered a young Matt Bradley, and a home loss to Ivy League school Brown University. That team missed the tournament altogether, losing in the Mountain West Conference championship game to Utah State.
Aztec fans, it’s too early to panic. The home team has at least three conference opponents that would boost their resume. But tomorrow is a must-win. The Tritons don’t care about their opponents’ resumes and have a real shot at snatching this game in their first meeting at the Division-I level.
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Erwin Mendoza
Erwin Mendoza grew up a SoCal kid, but now is raising a family in the Pacific Northwest. Besides covering San Diego State basketball, he loves lamenting the lack of sports championships from San Diego — minor league teams don’t count— while drinking the local stout on nitro.
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