Aztecs host New Mexico in crucial Mountain West battle

Credit: Don De Mars/EVT News

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Credit: Don De Mars/EVT News

Fresh off of a comeback win over Colorado State that saw them trail by 14 at the break, the San Diego State Aztecs are quickly moving on to their next opponent with just two days of rest.

The Aztecs deserve their flowers for the impressive second half, outsourcing the Rams 41-11. However, the win needs to be flushed away as another tough opponent heads down to America’s Finest City

“Just like we did Colorado State,” head coach Brian Dutcher said when asked how he will approach New Mexico after the win over CSU. We are playing four Quad 1 games in a row. At Nevada, Colorado State, New Mexico, and then we get to play at Utah State. So we can’t sit there and think we have arrived cause we have won this game, we have to play another one in two days. We don’t have any time to over-celebrate. We have to break down film and get ready for New Mexico, and that’s what we’ll do.”

A few hours after the Aztecs took down the Rams, New Mexico escaped Reno with a one-point win over the Wolf Pack, 83-82.

With that win, Richard Pitino and his squad are now tied with the Aztecs in the Mountain West standings at 8-4, one game behind Utah State (9-3). The Lobos are 20-5 overall, while SDSU is one game behind at 19-6.

The last time these two teams faced off was back on January 13 at The Pit. The first half showcased a back-and-forth battle, looking like anyone could take the game. The Lobos then proceeded to score 48 second-half points on their way to an 18-point win.

Credit: Don De Mars/EVT News

Jaelen House played one of the better games you will see a guard play against SDSU. He scored 26 points and finished 4-9 from beyond the arc. He also had six rebounds, five assists, three steals, one block, and only one turnover. The senior also showcased his clutch gene, going 8-8 from the charity stripe.

A major focus going into this rematch will certainly be to contain him as much as possible. The Aztecs cannot let him score and defend at as high of a level as he did last time out. Playing on the road will be a much tougher environment for House, especially if Viejas Arena is as loud as it was in the second half against CSU.

That atmosphere made a big difference. You didn’t hear the crowd much early on because of the Rams’ hot start. However, as the Aztecs slowly creeped back into the game the cheers got louder and louder. By the time SDSU took the lead, the arena was as loud as it has ever been.

“It was loud,” Jadeon LeDee said about the atmosphere. “We picked it up and the energy in the crowd gave us energy. I think Lamont got fouled and then their coach got a tech and I could barely hear what was going on in there. I think that was really a changing point for us … was the crowd.”

If the crowd is fired up like they were during the second half of that CSU game, then I expect the Aztecs to have a major advantage. The Lobos’ home court advantage at The Pit surely helped them gain control in the second half of the game earlier in the season.

Following the contest against Colorado State, much of the talk was focused on the Aztecs stellar second half, but to beat the Lobos, they will need to focus on the mistakes in the first half. They cannot afford to let the Lobos’ to storm out the gates like the Rams did.

A reason why Colorado State started as hot as they did was because of their transition offense setting up the multiple triples that fell their way. Coach Dutcher was not pleased at his team’s transition defense early in the game.

“We gave too many fastbreak baskets away to start the game,” Dutcher said. “That was the number one thing on the board, transition defense. They ran us like crazy in the first half.”

With the crowd advantage and better transition defense to start the game, the Aztecs should be in great shape.

The Lobos contain four dynamic players who all average north of 12 points per game. Three of them average over 15 in House, Donovan Dent and Jamal Mashburn Jr.

Dent, who is dealing with a high-ankle sprain suffered against Nevada, is 5th in the Mountain West in assists per game at 5.8, while House is 8th at 3.8. Dent is likely to be questionable for the game against SDSU.

JT Toppin is 4th on the team in scoring, averaging 12.4 points per game on 63% shooting, good for 13th in the nation. However, it’s not his scoring that allows him to impact the game. Toppin is second in the conference in rebounds per game at 8.8. He is also a tremendous shotblocker. Against SDSU earlier in the season, Toppin blocked five shots on his way to a steller game. He ended with 17 points, 16 rebounds, five blocks, and two steals.

LeDee has a tall task ahead of him Friday, as Toppin got the better of LeDee in the last meeting. Their matchup will be a great matchup to watch Friday night.

LeDee is coming off a 27-point outing, where he scored 22 points in the second half. You could see his frustration out there in the first half, and then in the second he looked like a completely different player. The Aztecs’ star forward is submenting himself as the premier player in the conference as the only one averaging over 20 points per game. LeDee is at 20.3 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 1.2 spg on 55.7% shooting.

The Aztecs have won 18 straight home games, and that streak is on the line Friday night.

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