Aztecs bounce back with dominating win against Rebels

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Credit: Cali Camera/ EVT Sports

Viejas Arena- San Diego, California

Google says the best way to get rid of rust is WD-40. The solution for the Aztecs was to get punched in the lip by Boise State.

After scoring only 37 points all last game, the Aztecs opened the game, scoring 42 points in the first half on 62% shooting. This quick start was all the Aztecs needed as they won the game 80-55.

“It’s always easier when the ball goes in the basket,” coach Dutcher said. “You score 37 points, and coach doesn’t sleep for two nights.”

Getting off to a quick start was clearly a focal point for the Aztecs. After scoring zero points in the opening five minutes last game, the fans reluctantly stood and clapped to a beat until after the first TV timeout. SDSU had only 14 points in the entire first half against the Broncos. Tonight, the Aztecs scored its 15th point of the game with 14:10 remaining in the first half.

Sometimes all it takes is a haircut to reset oneself. This is all Matt Bradley needed tonight. After Bradley missed the game-tying shot in the Broncos game and went 3-for-13 from the field, now rocking a much shorter cut, he opened the first half with 16 points on 7-for-8 shooting. “I just didn’t like my last hairstyle. I had to go fresh with it,” Bradley said. Dutcher’s comment on the hairstyle was, “I like him more aerodynamic.”

Credit: Cali Camera/ EVT Sports

Bradley remained in an inferno as he finished with a season-high 27 points missing only one shot in 11 attempts. Dutcher said, “I thought he did a good job of knowing when he had a mismatch when he had a smaller guy on him.”

The first half was a slam dunk competition.

“We gotta get better on the fast break,” Dutcher said after the Boise State loss. “I think we have to be more dangerous in the full court.”

The Aztecs were nothing but dangerous to the Rebels in the first half on the fast break. Lamont Butler had a filthy poster over Rebels 6’9 center Royce Hamm in transition. While Viejas was still queuing a replay on the jumbotron, Keshad Johnson stole the ball, and on an open court fast break, threw down a windmill slam to send the arena into a frenzy. To end the first half, Butler threw his own windmill jam down. The Aztecs finished the game with 23 fast breakpoints.

“Keshad gets on the break, we know what’s happening, but Lamont surprised us with a windmill,” Trey Pulliam said.

Playing a team twice comes with costs and benefits. It can be considered a good and bad thing with familiarity with the other teams. A negative would be that every time Dutcher yelled out an inbounds play, the Rebels coaches called it out to their defense clearly with a prepared game plan to guard it.

But while the Rebels had familiarity with the Aztecs’ inbounds plays, they didn’t with all the Aztecs players. Butler and Pulliam both missed the first game against the Rebels. Pulliam came out firing with a quick seven points highlighted by a beautiful reverse layup. They both provided a spark as they had nine points each in the first half.

Credit: Cali Camera/ EVT Sports

“We all have confidence in Trey,” Bradley said. “He’s a dog. He’s our captain.”

The Aztec offense had its way against the Rebels as they finished shooting 53% from the field. Adam Seiko came on Xtra 1360 last week and said, “the best part of playing with these guys is that we don’t have egos.” This was evident tonight as 12 different players made a basket.

Even though the Aztecs lost to the Broncos, their defensive numbers still went up. They came into tonight ranked 3rd in defensive efficiency. As per usual, they caused havoc. UNLV shot 32% from the field.

The Aztecs also negated the Rebels strength. The Rebels are one of the better teams in NCAA at not giving away the basketball, but the Aztecs forced them into 15 turnovers, including 10 in the first half.

The leading scorer Bryce Hamilton who’s averaging 31 points in his last two games, continued his hot shooting as he finished with 23 points.

But the other key piece that makes the Rebel engine runnin’ is Donovan Williams. After a last-second scratch last game, Donovan Williams was back in the starting lineup for the Rebels. He was the high scorer for the Rebels in the first matchup against the Aztecs this season. The Aztecs’ defense gave him a warm welcome. Williams had a scoreless first half and finished the game with only two points.

After missing last game due to not practicing because of a non-COVID illness, Chad Baker-Mazara returned to the court in limited minutes. He was a spark plug, as shown in a one-minute span in the second half. He created a steal, made a lay-up, and zipped a gorgeous pass to an open Joshua Tomaic. But his high energy did earn him a technical and a flagrant foul during the game. Dutcher said, “Chad has a pop to his game. He makes plays.”

Credit: Garrison/ EVT Sports

His return signifies the first game that the Aztecs have had a fully healthy roster since November 30th against Long Beach State. Dutcher recognizes this and said, “that’s why I hold out hope that we’ll continue to grow as a team and get better as the season goes on.”

Bradley starred in his dominant performance, but he isn’t focused on tonight. “I always tell myself that you’re only as good as your next game,” Bradley said. “We got Utah State next, can’t really harp on this one.”

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It will be a long day of preparation for the Aztecs. “Tomorrow, we’ll just walk through what (the Aggies) do on the floor. We won’t do anything hard on the floor,” Dutcher said. “Then, we’ll get on a plane, fly commercial to Salt Lake, then bus to Logan.”

The win tonight marks the 300th all-time win at Viejas Arena. They have an all-time record of 300-88 (.773) in Viejas.

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