Sweet, sweet revenge.
Chad Baker-Mazara had a simple tweet after the loss to Utah State three weeks ago, “We’re not going to forget about this, I’ll tell you that.”
“We definitely wanted this game, really looked forward to it, we had the (losing) final score marked on the whiteboard,” Matt Bradley said tonight.
This is revenge against an Aggies team that has beat SDSU four of the last five games, won two conference titles over them the last three seasons, and has the largest win against the Aztecs this season.
The Aztecs beat them in all areas and won the game 75-56. To prove that this game meant something more, the starters played till the final buzzer regardless of the blowout score.
SDSU shot a blistering 52% from the field. They also had one of their most efficient performances of the year as they had 19 assists to only eight turnovers.
“This is the way we’re supposed to be play. We shared the ball. Everybody got connected and made shots,” Bradley said.
The whole team took this game personal. The Aztecs used a collective effort. In the first matchup, only two players were in double figures, and only three players scored off the bench.
Tonight, was a different story. Seiko had three triples. Baker-Mazara found his spots in the lane for easy mid-range jumpers. Keshad Johnson played only four minutes in the first half after picking up two fouls, but he was relentless in the second half on the glass and in transition as he posterized multiple USU defenders.
“We had great production off the bench again, for the second straight game,” coach Brian Dutcher said. “We’re scoring at all three levels right now.”
There were three players in double figures and six players with at least six points.
Trainer Sergio Ibarra gave Matt Bradley a fist bump pre-game. Bradley had a wrap around his ankle and tape on his calf, but he showed no signs of his sprained ankle against Air Force bothering him.
What did bother him was Aggies’ defender, Sean Bairstow. A key moment early in the game was a basket by Bairstow over Matt Bradley to give USU a 12-7 lead. Bairstow had some words for Bradley that clearly fired him up. Bradley responded by hitting a three over him, a contested jumper, and drawing an offensive foul on the Aggies. Bradley let Bairstow and the Aggies bench know after every shot that he was energized. Bradley continued his dominance and scored 16 first-half points. He finished the game with his seemingly regular performance of 22 points and five assists.
The narrative around Bradley early in the season was that he struggled against taller defenders. Tonight, he faced 6’8 Bairstow and 6’7 Justin Bean. They were no match.
“I definitely took that into consideration when I was hearing it,” Bradley said. “It’s just been getting in the gym and feeling comfortable.”
20 minutes before tip-off, assistant coach JD Pollack was the only Aztec assistant coach on the floor. Pollock is the rebounding coach and has missed only one game this season, the first matchup against Utah State, a game the Aztecs were out-rebounded 35-21 and had zero offensive rebounds.
Johnson immediately got the first offensive rebound with a put-back layup three minutes into the game.
The Aztecs gave up five offensive rebounds before the first TV timeout in the second half. But they corrected their mistakes, and they won the rebound battle 31-28 and had 11 offensive rebounds.
“Coming back in the second half, Utah State was grabbing rebounds left and right, AG really saved us. He flipped the switch,” Bradley said. “He wasn’t going to allow us to keep getting punked on the glass.”
Aguek Arop finished with five rebounds, but his two offensive rebounds got all of Viejas Arena off their feet for a standing ovation. He finished with eight points.
Like the last matchup against the Aggies, Utah State is coming in on a losing streak. One a nail-biter to Wyoming and a full-strength Nevada team. They came out desperate in the first half tonight.
In the previous matchup, the Aggies shot 49.1% from the field, the highest shooting percentage all season against the Aztecs. Utah State ranks 19th in effective FG% and 7th in 2pt FG%. They proved early in the game to be a tough test for an Aztec defense that ranks 2nd in defensive efficiency as they shot 48% from the field.
After an Aggies possession that led to a three, a USU assistant coach thrilled over his offense yelled at his bench, “You have to make them guard!”
In the second half, the Aztecs guarded. They were tenacious and defended Utah State like they were tired of losing to the Aggies. They forced USU into multiple scoring droughts. They shot 28% in the second half and only scored 22 points.
“The big thing is personnel, our coaches do a great job at scouting,” Seiko said. “We know who we’re guarding, who we’re closing out.”
“We changed our ball screen coverage a little bit,” Coach Dutcher said. They weren’t switching on defenders the same way they did in the first matchup.
Justin Bean was big for USU, but everyone else was limited. He finished with 18 points and eight rebounds.
Brandon Horvath, who is averaging over 24 points and eight rebounds in the last two games, was held to only 10 points.
Dutcher said before the game that stopping the Aggies in transition would be crucial. The Aztecs fared well as they forced the Aggies to score only five fast break points.
Viejas Arena was back in full force tonight. In the last game, Utah State fans decided to make chants about their Mountain West football championship victory over the Aztecs. ‘The Show’ brought out their iconic “winning team, losing team” chant where they make it clear who won the game towards the Aggie bench.
“I felt like the (atmosphere) got back to what it was today,” Seiko said. “It was good to have.”
SDSU will now travel to Fresno State for an important road clash on Saturday night. With New Mexico beating Wyoming tonight and the Aztecs improving to (8-3) in the Mountain West Conference, SDSU is now only game back in the loss column.
“Fresno State is going to be a rock-fight. There’s not going to be anything pretty about that game,” Dutcher said.
“We just have to keep grinding out one win at a time,” Seiko said, not overlooking any opponent.