1. More minutes for Chad Baker-Mazara
SDSU Aztecs‘ coach Brian Dutcher preaches to his bench players that they must approach their minutes like NBA professionals and have confidence in making their shots. In 21 minutes off the bench against Fresno State, Chad Baker-Mazara found a groove, notching a season-high 20 points on 6-of-7 shooting, 12 of which came from three-point range.
“It feels amazing to step in with the Aztecs and either score the ball or just play defense,” said Baker-Mazara in Saturday’s post-game presser.
The Duquesne transfer logged zero minutes in the January matchup against Boise State but might be the x-factor for the Aztecs tomorrow night. He has now averaged nine points per game in away contests, albeit carried by the 20 at Fresno, and has 43 points in the last four games, averaging 10.8 points per game. During his tenure in the Atlantic 10 last season, he finished third in the league in three-point percentage at 41.7 percent.
Matt Bradley had been on fire in conference play, but the Bulldogs kept him to two points. His lack of offensive production was unnecessary as Baker-Mazara swooshed his open jumpers.
“Fresno tilted [towards defending] Matt Bradley,” said Baker-Mazara. “Matt [Bradley] made the right play every time and got us wide-open shots, and we were ready to knock them down.”
Against the Broncos, Bradley recorded seven points while Lamont Butler and Nathan Mensah tied for the team-high 10-points. If Bradley scores under 10 in back-to-back matches, there is definitely less pressure than before as the bench offense led by Baker-Mazara looks to make the most of their minutes.
“People ask the question, can we win Matt (Bradley) does not score, and the answer is yes, we can,” said Dutcher on Saturday night.
2. Do not let Marcus Shaver beat you
In the return trip to the Boise State Broncos (21-6, 12-2 MW), San Diego State is in for another rock fight of a Quad 1 opportunity. The Broncos are the ninth-ranked defensive team in Division-1 basketball while SDSU sits at second. The Idaho program has only lost twice since their previous meeting and has beat opponents with an average margin of victory of 10.8 points and slowed opponents to under 61.2 average points per game.
On Saturday, Leon Rice’s team allowed Utah State’s Justin Bean to score 10 points and walked away with an 11-point victory, 68-57. The Aggies were as close as four points until the two-minute mark where Bronco guard Marcus Shaver provided a clutch three-pointer, pushing his team to a seven-point lead and sealing the victory.
Shaver has scored 20-plus points in back-to-back games, and since their meeting inside Viejas Arena, he averages 14 points per game with a 46.3 percent shooting percentage. The redshirt senior has stepped up as one of the best closers in the Mountain West Conference.
The drastic change in focus for SDSU will be a tough ask. Instead of guarding a 7-footer with national recognition, they will be figuring out how to chase the guard around the floor and limit his opportunities. As seen before, the 6-foot-2 guard is quick and likes to create enough space to make his own shot.
The Aztecs must remain disciplined in their defense to keep Marcus Shaver out of rhythm, and when pressed, he will try to involve Tyler Degenhart, who scored 14 in San Diego, and others during any kind of run. The Broncos’ clutch man can not decide the game. That has to be up to San Diego State’s guards and how fast they can keep up.
3. Focus on the Broncos
After San Diego State defeated their opponent on Saturday evening, they flew charter instead of a late-night bus ride down the 5 freeway from Fresno to campus. The four-plus hours saved spared coaches precious moments to prepare for their next challenger. NCAA mandates rest for its student-athletes, but coaches do not have that cap. Dutcher and his staff have been analyzing film of multiple teams in their preparation time because of the rocky terrain ahead.
Boise is not located a mile above the Pacific, but it might as well be.
Tomorrow kicks off a stretch of five games in 11 days with three above sea level. San Diego State has encountered this type of schedule in its past, but only after playing the Mountain West Conference Tournament and into March Madness.
Their competition, too, knows the struggle of having five games in 11 days.
“We did not want to get overwhelmed and start looking (at all these games),” said Bronco head coach Leon Rice after their victory against the Aztecs. “Don’t forget, it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire.” Boise State started their arduous stretch in early January with a win and did not lose until February 3 to Wyoming.
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Dutcher’s crew is aware of what lurks ahead, and they know what college analysts are saying about their post-season chances. As of Monday afternoon, bracketologist Jerry Palm of CBS has them in as a 10-seed, whereas ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has them firmly on the bubble as one of the First Four Out.
It is a cliche in sports, but the Aztec players have to translate their training into results and remain laser-focused on the Broncos tomorrow night.
Erwin Mendoza grew up a SoCal kid, but now is raising a family in the Pacific Northwest. Besides covering San Diego State basketball, he loves lamenting the lack of sports championships from San Diego — minor league teams don’t count— while drinking the local stout on nitro.