Aztecs open with 73-58 victory over #22 UCLA

Credit: SDSU Aztecs

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Viejas Arena- San Diego, California

The San Diego State Aztecs started their 2020-21 season with a dominating win over the #22 UCLA Bruins, 73-58.

“We expect to win,” head coach Brian Dutcher said. “Coach Fisher said a long time ago that we are not a one-hit-wonder. We’ve built a program. We’ve got great respect on the west coast within our conference. We were picked to win the league again after losing three starters.”

After struggling to rebound the ball last year, the Aztecs dominated the glass Wednesday. They tallied 12 offensive rebounds and out-rebounded UCLA by six.

Nathan Mensah, who missed the majority of last year, returned to the court and served a big role in securing missed shots. Although he only scored four points, he led the Aztecs with seven rebounds.

The only two returning starters from last year’s 30-2 team, Matt Mitchell and Jordan Schakel led the way offensively for the Aztecs with 15 points each.

Schakel continued his three-point shooting success from last year, going 3-5 from behind the arc. He also went 4-4 on free throws.

Mitchell led the Aztecs at halftime with ten points but slowed down a bit in the second half, going 2-7 from the floor.

The two transfers, Terrell Gomez and Joshua Tomaic gave great minutes off the bench.

Gomez nearly averaged 20 points per game last year at Cal State Northridge. In a smaller role for the Aztecs, he scored ten points in his San Diego State debut.

Tomaic averaged just four minutes and one point per game last year at Maryland. Now that he is seeing a bigger role for San Diego State, he played 15 minutes and scored nine points.

One of the big questions entering the season was how the Aztecs would replace Malachi Flynn, their leading scorer from last year and a first-round draft pick in the NBA Draft.

The Aztecs looked to Trey Pulliam to lead the offense in Flynn’s absence. Pulliam led the Aztecs in assists with seven while also scoring eight points and grabbing four rebounds. He only turned the ball over twice in 28 minutes.

Aguek Arop also reached double digits in points. He did not reach that mark at any point during the 2019-20 season.

The defense for San Diego State continues to be the mark of the program. They limited UCLA to just 58 points Wednesday. The Bruins averaged 69.5 points per game last year. SDSU also forced the Bruins to turn the ball over 15 times.

“We used a lot of guys, 10 guys & we don’t drop off much,” Dutcher said. “This might be as deep a team as we’ve ever had. UCLA was shorthanded. I just think we wore them down. We picked them up full-court the entire game, and I think we just wore them down to the point where maybe they were on tired legs by the end of the game.”

The Aztecs did a good job of limiting Chris Smith, the Bruins best player, to just 10 points and zero rebounds in 27 minutes. Smith was the lone Bruin with positive +/-. SDSU did benefit from the fact that he played with foul trouble and fouled out with under five minutes remaining in the game.

SDSU Athletics

In any normal year, a home game for SDSU at Viejas Arena includes a packed house of over 10,000 fans screaming for their Aztecs. However, there were no fans allowed into Wednesday’s game, given the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the Aztecs, this did not matter.

“We know we have to bring it ourselves,” Schakel said.

Communicating on the court is easier without the fans.

“Another positive is that it is easier for us on defense,” Mitchell said. “We can hear each other talk, as our voices are louder with not as many voices.”

After a dominating performance over UCLA, SDSU now looks ahead to their matchup with the UC Irvine Anteaters on Friday.

Although UC Irvine is unranked and not as prestigious as UCLA, the Anteaters are the preseason favorite in the Big West after going 21-11 last year. UC Irvine lost their opener Wednesday to Pepperdine, 86-72.

The opening tip-off is scheduled for 4:00 p.m. on Friday at Viejas Arena.

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