Following their first loss of the season on Saturday, SDSU got the perfect antidote to their woes: a game against UNLV. The Aztecs had taken 18 of the last 20 contests from the Rebels going into Monday’s game. SDSU continued their dominance over the team based in Sin City, runnin’ over the Rebels 80-55. Below are 20 quick thoughts inspired by yesterday’s victory.
1. UNLV is not the Aztecs’ rival. The Aztecs have now won 19 of their 21 matchups against the Rebels. That is not a rivalry. Despite gaining 17 games in the all-time series, SDSU only holds a 40-37 series lead.
2. Coach Brian Dutcher should be regarded as one of the best defensive coaches of all time. Since their loss to Michigan, no opponent has scored more than 57 points in a game. The last four opponents have shot under 32% from the field. Against the Rebels, every player on the roster gave the same defensive effort. Clearly, elite defense is woven into the fabric of the program.
3. Cade Alger fighting to block an open Rebel shot with a minute left in the game illustrates the Aztec defensive culture. SDSU was up 23, but every player on the roster was fighting till the final whistle.
4. Dutcher is never satisfied. In the press conference, he said, “I thought at the end we were sloppy at times. I told them I don’t coach to the score; I coach to the standard I’m trying to hold you to.” This standard is why San Diego State has the most Mountain West Championships in the conference at 14. For context, the next closest team is New Mexico at 8.
5. When Matt Bradley gets into a rhythm, he cannot be stopped. This Aztec team can beat anyone when he is scoring. Dutcher’s stated goal is to reach a Final Four as such. He coaches the team to attempt to reach its ceiling. Bradley scoring at a high level is the Aztecs’ best hope to reach their potential.
6. Bradley did a great job of finding the smaller defender to score over. He has struggled against taller teams such as USC, Michigan, and Boise State. He scored a season-high 27 points. He scored his career-high of 29 with Cal against Colorado.
7. The pregame dunk line shenanigans are awesome and make for some spectacular in-game highlights. The underrated dunkers are Chad Baker-Mazara, Triston Broughton, and Alger, who all have dunk packages worthy of a contest.
8. It is doubtful Viejas arena is any quieter when no one is in the building than when Keshad Johnson has no one in front of him on a fast break. A pin drop can be heard in the building as the fans wait in anticipation.
9. “Caw, caw, caw” can be heard from Johnson’s teammates as they give him bird calls before he soars to the rim on the team’s final dunk of pregame warm-ups. Johnson may be known for high-flying athleticism, but he has improved his stats in every area compared to last season.
10. Johnson might be the team’s best dunker, but Lamont Butler owns the biggest vertical on the team. The sky is the limit for the Aztecs’ sophomore. His potential is unmatched both offensively and defensively.
11. The Aztecs no longer have the issue of giving up too many offensive rebounds. They have won the board battle in six of the last seven games.
12. They still struggle from the free-throw line. They went 12-for-15 against the Rebels but still rank 324th in the NCAA at 66% for the season
13. Dutcher is mixing lineups together now that everyone is healthy. The center combination of Joshua Tomaic and Tahirou Diabate was featured often last night in garbage time, and they worked. On the other hand, Dutcher played only a handful of players when the game was in doubt. The rotation will be interesting to watch heading into the final few weeks of the regular season.
14. Nathan Mensah may be the greatest defender in all of college basketball. He is able to guard any position. He was particularly effective against UNLV star Bryce Hamilton. Hamilton was visibly intimidated when Mensah switched on to him on the wing. Mensah also influences every shot in the paint. Mensah entered the season ninth on the school’s all-time list with 100 career blocks. He has added 35 this season, passing Billy White, Aerick Sanders, Malik Pope, Joe McNaull, Michael Cage, and Malcolm Thomas to move into third all-time. The top two spots are out of reach. Leonard Allen is second with 214 blocks, and Skylar Spencer is first with 314. Their marks may have been reachable if Mensah was healthier earlier in his career, though Spencer and Allen each had a higher per game block average over their careers than Mensah.
15. Baker-Mazara will be the team’s‘ X-factor’ moving forward. He makes game-changing plays. He can also be the team’s offensive spark plug off the bench. “Chad has a pop to his game. He makes plays,” Dutcher said in the UNLV press conference. A nice reminder to Aztec fans is that he’s only a sophomore and has an additional year of college eligibility.
16. Viejas Arena attendance could improve. At least 9,000 strong have consistently attended, but too many empty seats considering there is another tremendous Aztec team on the Mesa. The COVID policies certainly contribute to low turnout. Hopefully, 12,414 will be able to fill the venue again soon because there is no better atmosphere than the Madhouse on the Mesa. Against the Rebels, the Aztecs recorded their 300th all-time win in Viejas Arena. They have an all-time record of 300-88.
17. ‘The Show’ is still as creative and rowdy as ever but also could improve their attendance. Perhaps, when students return to class in person, more of the students will show up in person to support the team.
18. The heckling from all fans to the opponent’s bench has been tremendous and hilarious. Some of the lines should not be repeated in print, but on more than one occasion, opposing players and even coaches have responded with sometimes obscene gestures.
19. No Aztec played over thirty minutes against the Rebels. Tired legs should not be too big of an issue against the Aggies. Both Bradley and Trey Pulliam said in the press conference that they feel good.
20. The players drinking beet juice will make a return as the team will travel to altitude for the second time this season. Dutcher says he does not take it, but he trusts in the science and the trainers’ advice.