Aztecs face UCONN for the second year in a row

All four Aztecs pictured return after playing in basketball's biggest game. (Don De Mars/EVT)

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Credit: Don De Mars/ EVT Sports

For the second straight year, the Aztecs have advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

They will face the University of Connecticut Huskies, the same program that defeated the Aztecs in the championship game last year. It is also the second straight year that SDSU will play the number one overall seed in its third game of the tourney. 

General Observations

The Huskies have dominated all season. They have lost only three games, all of which were on the road. The upcoming game in Boston will essentially be a home game for them. UCONN is incredibly well-balanced, ranking in the top ten both offensively and defensively in KenPom. They score from anywhere on the floor, move the ball well, and have great size and length. The metrics say they play slow, but the Huskies rank in the 98th percentile in transition efficiency. So when they run they do it better than most anyone in the country. 

How to defend UCONN

The Huskies have the most complex and high-level offensive playbook in college basketball. They have multiple plays to face every style of defense and take advantage of any weaknesses they find. 

While the Huskies do not push tempo often, when they do, they are dangerous. Not allowing the easy points will be critical since UCONN is so good at scoring without the easy points. Playing defense in transition is a priority. If anyone takes a second to pout or loses focus, they will get scored on. 

There is not a single coverage that will work well against UCONN on its own. In the pick-and-roll, the Aztecs often like to switch ball screens, but 7-foot-2 center Donavan Clingan will make that difficult. He is a huge target and will dominate any guard that is forced to guard him down low. If the Aztecs hedge, it leaves the paint unguarded, and the Huskies will get a layup more often than not. If the Aztecs use a drop coverage, shooters like Cam Spencer will get open looks coming off of screens. 

The key will be switching defenses to make the Huskies think. In the full court, SDSU will change between using a soft press and a hard press to eat up the shot clock, wear down legs, and ideally will result in a few extra turnovers. 

In the half-court, rotating defenses between switching, hedging, dropping, go-over screens, go-under screens, and applying pressure the entire time could confuse the UCONN. Anything to get the Huskies out of their rhythm and throw off the timing of their sets would be wise.  

How to attack UCONN

The Huskies use two main defenses when they play. If Clingan is playing, the Huskies tend to play drop coverage. It keeps Kilngan in the paint and lets him protect the rim. The key is making him move. The Aztecs need to force him to commit to a player and then quickly get the ball to someone else around the rim. If a perimeter player can drive to the paint, they can either hit Jaedon LeDee on a dump-off or attempt a layup. Even if the shot misses, LeDee will be able to get the offensive rebound if the ball handler successfully draws Clingan’s attention. 

When Clingan is on the bench, and Samson Johnson is playing, the Huskies run a hedge and recover defense. The hedge is very aggressive, which has pros and cons. The con for San Diego State ball handlers is they have a lot of pressure as they try to decide what to do, which makes it very difficult to turn the corner into the paint.

However, if the Aztecs can move the ball quickly, the hard hedge leaves the paint undefended. 

Regardless of who is playing center for UCONN, they have a dangerous defense. On the perimeter, they have a lot of length and athleticism and contest every shot. The Aztecs will need to be on point with their decision-making and ball movement to get good shots. 

In the post, LeDee may see something he has not seen in a long time, a single player guarding him. Clingan is one of the best rim protectors in the nation, and he is long and strong enough to bang with LeDee. LeDee really struggled with Clingan’s length in the championship game last season. In front of what will essentially be a home crowd for UCONN, LeDee will likely also not be given a favorable whistle. LeDee will need to use all his tricks to hit shots, and his midrange game will need to be on point. If LeDee can get Clingan to close out on a shot fake, LeDee can attack and drive by to score at the rim.

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Players to watch

Tristan Newton, #2, 15.3 Points, 6.8 Rebounds, 6.2 Assists

Newton currently sits as the third-best player in the nation according to KenPom’s Player of the Year rankings. For context, LeDee is fourth. As a 6-foot-5 point guard, he excels at getting to the paint, seeing over the defense, and making the right decision. Whether he is passing to a shooter, finishing over his defender, or drawing contact, he can do it all. In last year’s championship game, Newton had 19 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists. Expect Lamont Butler to take on this challenge, one of the biggest of his career.

Donovan Clingan, #32, 12.8 Points, 7.4 Rebounds, 1.5 Assists

Clingan is a force inside. Listed at 7-foot-2 and 280 pounds, he is one of few college basketball players that have the girth to match up against Jaedon LeDee’s physical style of play. He is coming off a game where he had eight blocks against Northwestern, scored fourteen points on only seven shots, and collected fourteen rebounds. Getting shots over him will be hard, and stopping him down low may be even harder.

Cam Spencer, #12, 14.4 Points, 4.5 Rebounds, 3.6 Assists

Spencer is a fifth-year senior who played last season at Rutgers. He is the supreme floor spacer as he leads the nation in offensive efficiency. Spencer has a shooting line of 49% from the floor, 44% from deep, and 91% from the free throw line. He knows how to get good looks in UCONN’s system, can use his gravity to create for others, and is disruptive defensively as well. Darrion Trammell will likely start the game defending Spencer, but as Trammell and Butler rotate minutes, it will be the job of Reese Waters and Miles Byrd to attempt to deny him the ball and contest his shots.


Three-point shooting. Defensively, forcing misses from behind the arc is one of the few things the Aztecs do better than the Huskies. Offensively, the Aztecs have struggled behind the arc since the start of January. They showed what they can do when shots fall against a good Yale team though. Granted, good looks will be harder to come by against the Huskies than they were against the Bulldogs. With a little luck on both ends of the floor, the Aztecs can keep it close.

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