1. Move the ball with or without Matt Bradley
The senior guard has been missing from the stat sheet in Las Vegas only scoring a combined 12 points in the Mountain West Conference Tournament. Yet his presence lingers on the floor, frustrating opponents.
Guard Adam Seiko said in last night’s post-game presser, “[Bradley] understands that sometimes it is good for him to be a decoy out there and…help us get easy buckets.”
These two games in Vegas have been the only time all season Bradley has had back-to-back outings of single-digit scoring. They are the first since his freshmen season at Cal, and only the third in his career. How he has handled this scoring drought is a sign of his growth as an Aztec. There is less pressure to shoulder the team when his teammates contribute on offense. In their heartbreaking loss to Boise State on February 22, the guard from the Inland Empire scored 12 points and the bench notched 18. Against the Rams, he recorded five while the bench accounted for 27.
“We are at our best when we assist each other,” said Seiko.
Coach Brian Dutcher understands the ebb and flows of the game, and having the leadership of his star player regardless of point totals on the floor is important. For Bradley and the squad, going opposite Boise State means they get a chance to take their frustrations out from two previous defeats, but it will take great ball movement to find those easy buckets.
Against Boise State, the bench has to stay focused and choose better shot attempts than in the regular-season contests against the Broncos. Numbers point that Matt Bradley breaks out of his slump here, as he has never gone three straight matches scoring under 10. Regardless of his production, the selfless approach works and they look good.
2. Abu Kigab must not have the final word
When these teams last met, Abu Kigab ended the SDSU’s hopes to knot the series 1-1 on two clutch free throws. That night he totaled 21 points, nine of which came from the charity stripe.
The forward is still at it in the Mountain West Conference Tournament. In Boise State’s 68-61 victory over Wyoming, the 6-foot-6 senior led the Broncos with 21 points and scored the final field goal to put away the Cowboys. Through the night, the Bronco shot 7-of-15 from the field, including 4-of-8 from the perimeter.
The Aztecs struggled with his athleticism on both ends of the floor in the regular season. The team could not find clean perimeter looks against his length and offensively Kigab found ways to get to the free-throw line. SDSU has to ramp up its perimeter defense and minimize lapses in the paint.
That might mean giving minutes to Aguek Arop and Chad Baker-Mazara to chase him around or simply limit the fouls from Nathan Mensah. The senior from Ghana was in foul trouble again last night. He fouled out in the final minutes of the game. Dutcher had to shuffle his lineup because of their foul trouble, which allowed Colorado State to get back into the game. San Diego State plays better defense when the Defensive Player of the Year is on the floor.
Keeping in mind Kigab was fouled at the end of their prior game, San Diego State knows too well they must keep the ball away from Kigab in the final minutes.
3. Do not give Boise State the hat trick
Given their one-point loss and Dutcher’s desire to hang a banner for some of the guys new to the program, San Diego State wants this win. The Steve Fisher disciple gets his team in shape no matter the time turnaround.
“Coach Dutch and our staff, like we say, they have the best scout in the country,” praised Adam Seiko. “We scout and prepare the best in the country.”
The Aztecs are in luck that they have built the entire program on bouncing back.
Going back to 2003, when they play a league opponent for the third time and that team beat them twice, SDSU has come out victorious. The 2003 team that lost all three games to UNLV went on to play in the NIT led by Tony Bland.
- 2021: two losses to Utah State, win in the championship
- 2018: two losses to Fresno State, win in the opener
- 2011: two losses to BYU, win in the championship
- 2009: two losses to BYU, win in the semi-final
- 2005: two losses to Air Force, win in the opener
Fisher and Dutcher have built their program on resiliency. It is part of the reason the Aztecs enter Saturday’s championship game for the fifth consecutive season. The Broncos, in contrast, are playing in their first as members of the Mountain West. The quick turnaround is tough for the team from San Diego, but the staff has prepared this program to compete for these moments.