Five thoughts following an Aztecs’ disappointing loss

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Credit: Go Aztecs

1. Too Many Threes?

SDSU shot more three attempts than two-point tries – 30 to 27. They made five more attempts from three. Their 30 three-point attempts were the second-most this season, and the third time they attempted more shots from behind the arc than inside of it. Their shot selection was in line with what they have done for most of the year. On the season, 45% of SDSU’s field goal attempts are from three. Saturday, 52.7% of their attempts were from behind the arc.

Coach Dutcher liked the shot selection from his team, “Our three-point shooting was incredible. What were we? 14 for 30. That’s as good as you’re going to see anywhere in the country. And we had 18 assists on 23 baskets, so we played the right way. We shared the ball. They pack the paint. They put a lot of people in front of you, so it’s a drive and kick game, it’s a throw it into the post – go against a double (team) – kick it out for open threes. And we made a lot of threes. I was happy with our shot selection for the most part. … I thought offensively, for the most part, we played the right way.”

2. Shots off ball screens

Loses are always difficult for players and fans alike, but there were signs this team is getting better.

The Aztecs had ten days between games. One area where they showed improvement was their ability to hit the open three off ball screens. Some of that was due to the way CSU runs under ball screens to “pack the paint,” as Coach Dutcher put it. But, throughout the non-conference schedule – particularly against BYU – SDSU did not make a lot of shots immediately off screens. It is an encouraging development for their offense. It adds another dimension to their offense that teams will have to scout for going forward.

3. Ball Movement

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Saturday’s game is how polar SDSU looked offensively. When SDSU shared the ball, they scored, but when they played in isolation, they did not. The Aztecs had 18 assists on 23 baskets. The 18 assists were the most this season. Tre Pulliam, in particular, was the key to getting the offense moving.

He had a third of the team’s assists Saturday, and of the primary ball handlers, he is the best at getting the ball moving. Pulliam leads the team with 27 assists. He has only 10 turnovers in 213 minutes as the team’s primary ball-handler. Terrell Gomez has also done a good job at being a playmaker. Gomez has 18 assists and 8 turnovers in 177 minutes.

Why, when it worked so well, did SDSU go away from moving the ball? That is the teachable moment from this game, which will make them better going forward. When the ball stopped moving, the Aztecs’ offense stalled, but when they “played the right way,” as Dutcher described it after the game, they were unstoppable. The two players who will need to grow their games in this regard are the stars of the team, Matt Mitchell and Jordan Schakel. Both have more turnovers than assists on the season.

4. Game of Runs

San Diego State led 33-7 with 9:24 left in the first half on the back of a 12-0 and a 9-0 run. Colorado State followed by a 19-0 run of their own. SDSU opened the second half on a 10-2 run to open up a 15 point lead. Colorado State responded with a 14-0 run to pull within one. Finally, after SDSU built a 67 -59 lead with 2:06 remaining, the Rams ended the game on another 14-0.

“It’s a game of runs,” Coach Dutcher explained after the game.  “Every game in college basketball, there are going to be runs. You have to try to extend yours and shorten theirs. We let them get on a big run (in the first half). Maybe I should have taken a timeout in that stretch. We had a TV timeout in the middle of it, so I thought that was good enough to get us back on pace.”

“Usually runs are started by turnovers. We had three turnovers in that (run) and didn’t get shots up, and made enough mistakes to let them get back in the game. That’s what teams do. (Colorado State) is a good team, so teams go on runs. We were 16 down in the second half against Pepperdine and won the game. We were 17 down to BYU and tied it with 1:11 to go. Basketball is a game of runs.”

“Unfortunately, the run went against us today. We let a good start go for naught, and we have to find a better way. With all that being said, we’re up seven with a minute and five to go. We have to finish the game. We have to finish the game out.”

5. Switching all screens

The Aztecs continue to be adept at switching ball screens at all positions on the court. When they switch, it leaves Nathan Mensah or Joshua Tomaic guarding quicker players on the perimeter. In many ways, SDSU’s bigs did a better job containing the Rams guards than their smaller teammates.

Likewise, when a switch occurs, SDSU’s guards have to cover opposing forwards in the post. By forcing CSU’s post players to catch the ball further from the basket, the Aztecs backcourt players held their own against bigger players. Switching ball screens one through five is a terrific weapon to be able to use defensively.

“I thought we did a decent job in the half-court for the most part.” Coach Dutcher reflected. “We switched a lot of ball screens. We had our guards fronting their posts. But (when) they threw it in, I didn’t think it was that detrimental to us. We had our bigs guarding their guards. Stevens is a first-team all-conference guard. I thought we did a very good job on him.”

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