Aztecs win comfortably against the Rams, 77-58
Last season due to COVID, the Aztecs took a two-week program pause at the beginning of their conference season, which jammed games on the schedule and gave them no chance to catch their breath heading into the Mountain West Tournament. They ended up playing their six final games in 15 days with no more than two days rest in between games. The fatigue was evident heading into the conference tournament.
This year, the Aztecs had time to take a vacation if they wanted to. They played two games in 10 days and have not suited up for six days. Sitting in first place in the conference and with all bracketologists putting SDSU firmly in the NCAA tournament field, it can be easy to look ahead. With four conference games remaining, they must refocus and finish their goal of hanging a banner.
“Although we may have a bid at the tournament, this program is based on winning rings,” Adam Seiko said in the pregame press conference. “Right now, we’re focused on one game at a time, and when the tournament comes, we’ll see what seed we are and try to win it.”
The next game on the schedule is Colorado State. A Rams team that is a disappointing 12-15 but has all of Coach Brian Dutcher’s attention because of their dangerous offense and elite coaching. The Aztecs escaped with a road win in overtime just a month ago against the Rams.
To open the game, the Aztecs looked focused. They attacked the Rams both offensively and defensively and immediately jumped to a lead.
Through 20 minutes, they led by 15 points even though both teams shot 46% from the field. The difference in the first half was turnovers and free throws.
Rams: 10 turnovers, 3-for-3 from the charity stripe
Aztecs: 2 turnovers, 13-for-14 from the line.
In the second half, SDSU kept their foot on the pedal.
The half opened with the ‘Matt Bradley Show’, and he was the main character. He opened the second half by hitting a contested corner three, then a mid-range jumper in the same corner, he attacked the bigger defender off the dribble and took a heat check three because everything was hitting the net. 10 quick points in four minutes, and the SDSU lead was up to 20.
Once the lead extended to this margin, it was all but over. The Aztecs carried their comfortable lead to a 77-58 victory.
The Rams are led by Isaiah Stevens, Dutcher and Seiko both credited Stevens as one of the best point guards in the nation before the game. Regardless of the guard’s ability, the Aztecs opened the game with intense ball pressure and a ferocious full-court press. Whenever Stevens did not bring the ball up the floor, the Aztecs made the Ram ball handlers uncomfortable. Throughout the game, there were multiple errant passes and mistakes before the ball crossed midcourt. They finished with 16 turnovers.
“We did a lot of scout on their press break, we felt like our fives could be up a little more,” Darrion Trammell said. “We’ve been working on it all week, it felt good to execute that and tire (Stevens) out.”
Dutcher said that the Rams are an excellent set-play team. The press disrupted their rhythm and denied them the ability to flow into their offense.
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The Rams decided to open the game with a small-ball lineup. They benched their center, James Moors.
Three minutes into the game, the Aztecs benched their center, too, due to foul trouble. Nathan Mensah picked up two quick fouls, the second foul had Dutcher animated on the sidelines as Mensah was vertical in his defense, but there was still contact on the Ram.
“Most teams in the country couldn’t survive that when you’re starting, center goes out two minutes into the game, but we are super deep at that position,” Dutcher said. “We’re deep and dangerous at the center position.”
The Aztecs used their size and physicality to attack inside. They fed the post, attacked on out-of-bounds plays, and drove to the rim from the perimeter. Through 14 minutes, SDSU had 14 points in the paint and only one three-pointer.
They drew contact in the paint, which led to opportunities from the free throw line. They finished the game with 30 points in the paint, and they shot 19-for-23 from the free-throw line.
“A lot of what we’re doing involves both bigs being near the rim, and we’re getting to the foul line because of it,” Dutcher said.
Offensively it was a coalition of efforts. Five players were in double figures. SDSU scored 35 points off the bench.
“When we come in (the bench), there’s no drop off… when we come in, bring up the energy and just attack,” Jaedon LeDee said.
LeDee searched for baskets. He attacked on post moves, fought on the glass, and looked for his mid-range jumper.
“I’m feeling good, we gelling at the right time, I know where my spots are, I know where everybody else’s spots are,” LeDee said.
Micah Parrish was a corner specialist. He missed one in front of the bench, grabbed his rebound, and converted a more contested jumper from the same spot. He later hit another with his teammates behind him, cheering the basket before Parrish even attempted it.
“We were all clicking tonight, I think that’s just been our theme all year,” Trammell said. “It’s just trying to stay out of each other’s ways and just letting each other be each other, be who they are, let everyone have that freedom and confidence that they have.”
With 7:47 to play in the game, Bradley was subbed out as he hurt his hand on the prior possession. He was visibly in pain as he was trying to shake it off when running up the floor. Bradley checked back in two minutes later after assistant coach David Velasquez got clearance from SDSU trainer Sergio Ibarra. Once Ibarra gave the green light, Bradley could return.
“He got whacked on top of the hand, and they said there was a knot on top of his knuckle or something, so I’m sure Sergio will look at it,” Dutcher said.
Next game for the Aztecs is on the road in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the only team to beat the Aztecs at home. Both LeDee and Trammell looked visibly excited in the press conference to face the Lobos again. A win would almost solidify at least a share of the Mountain West regular season title.
On all the seats tonight was a QR code for trivia. Fans were able to scan the card for an opportunity to win $500, the proceeds from the application go to the MESA Foundation, which is a non-profit organization that benefits SDSU student-athletes. There was only one Aztec-related question tonight, but if there was a question to be used from tonight, it would be, what player has the most wins in program history?
The answer after tonight, Seiko with 110 career program wins, surpassing Skylar Spencer at 109.
Class of 2022 at San Diego State University. Communication major and pursuing a sports journalism profession. Season ticket holder of the SDSU MBB team since 2011. Fondest memory of Viejas Arena is Aztec legend, Dwayne Polee sparking a 19-1 run over New Mexico to win the MW Conference in 2014.