It is rival week for the Aztecs. SDSU is coming in on a three-game win streak and will face Utah State, who has been the Aztecs biggest challenge in the conference the last three seasons.
The Aggies have won four of the last five matchups and unforgettably have won two of the last three Mountain West Conference titles over SDSU. But the Aggies have never won in Viejas Arena.
“It’s kind of an un-talked about rivalry between San Diego State and Utah State,” Matt Bradley said. “Our team has been fired up about it, and we’re really looking forward to this game.”
SDSU desperately needs to polish up their resume as they have been on the NCAA Tournament bubble for weeks. The Aggies are still one of the better teams in the conference even though they sit in seventh in the Mountain West. SDSU must capitalize on their home games as their resume can ill-afford to drop winnable games with difficult road tests coming up.
Below are three keys for SDSU to get revenge and beat the Aggies on Tuesday, February 15.
- Avoid starting the first or second half slow.
A problem for the Aztecs in conference play is falling behind in the opening minutes to begin the first and second half. In the first matchup, at halftime, against Utah State, the Aztecs trailed by one. But after the first TV timeout, in the second half, they trailed 12. Against Colorado State, at halftime, the SDSU five-point deficit turned into 13 after the first TV timeout. Against Nevada, the Wolfpack started the game with a 15-5 lead. Last game, against Air Force, the Falcons were perfect from the field for the opening nine minutes.
SDSU has added extra pressure to themselves when they are fighting back into the game.
After the Utah State loss, coach Brian Dutcher said, “It’s the start of both halves. They got out in the first half and built a lead, and we fought and chipped. Then in the second half, they got off running again.”
In that game against the Aggies, SDSU trailed by 15 with 10 minutes left but cut the deficit down to seven with five minutes to go.
If you break the 40-minute game into stretches of four 10- minute quarters, the Aztecs’ worst quarters have been the first and third quarter which is the opening 10 minutes of each half.
- Contest the three-ball, particularly in transition
Utah State is a balanced team. They don’t necessarily rely on the three-ball. Their offense ranks 38th nationally, but they have multiple shooters who can be dangerous beyond the arc. Just about everyone on the roster besides Sean Bairstow can shoot from three.
The Aztecs witnessed this in the first game as the Aggies blasted three-point attempts from all over the court. They shot 10-for-24 from deep which propelled their momentum runs. Steven Ashworth was a particular threat as he made four first-half threes and finished the game 5-for-10 from deep.
Coach Brian Dutcher is afraid of the Aggies’ ability to make threes in transition.
“They run in transition well,” Dutcher said. “They have the ability with (Justin) Bean and (Brandon) Horvath to run to the three-point arc.” “When they make 10, that gets your attention. We have to do a good job of finding the shooters in transition. We have to have (Steven) Ashworth awareness.”
The Aggies will get another offensive threat back as their starting point guard Rylan Jones will play as he missed the first matchup against SDSU.
SDSU has fared well against the other team’s three-ball this season. They are forcing opponents to shoot 30% from deep which ranks 31st nationally.
- Crash the glass, grab offensive rebounds
It is no secret that out-rebounding your opponent leads to a better chance of victory. In five of SDSU’s six losses, they have been outrebounded.
Against Utah State in the first matchup, they were outrebounded 35-21. But what really stood out was zero offensive rebounds.
“We had zero offensive rebounds. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that from an Aztec team,” Dutcher said after the Aggies loss.
Matt Bradley was not making excuses in Monday’s press conference but mentioned that SDSU was without their rebounding coach JD Pollock for that game.
“Very uncharacteristic of us not to rebound the way we did,” Bradley said. “We’re focused back in.”
In that game, Nathan Mensah was in early foul trouble. He played only 19 minutes and grabbed only four rebounds. Mensah staying on the floor and out of foul trouble will be crucial for SDSU’s rebounding and keeping him in rhythm. Mensah is coming off one of his best games in conference play as he scored 14 points and secured six rebounds against Air Force.
Utah State ranks fifth in the conference in rebounds. But they rank 13th nationally in denying opponents from grabbing offensive rebounds.