Three keys to an Aztec victory over Fresno State

Credit: Paul Garrison/ EVT Sports

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Credit: Don De Mars/ EVT Sports

1. Get Matt Bradley ready for Vegas

Matt Bradley is coming off a historic week, acknowledged by ESPN and NCAA as national player of the week, honored as Mountain West newcomer of the year, and getting named to the All-Mountain West First Team by conference coaches, Second Team by media members.

Last week he recorded his third straight 20-point game after scoring 24 on Nevada, his second three-game streak this year. Bradley only completed this feat once in his career as California Golden Bear.

Brian Dutcher spoke to the media on Monday about how their offense has improved over the season because it was important to “get Matt Bradley comfortable having the ball…and making big plays.”

Bradley’s rise and nationally recognized skills will be needed come tip-off. In his career in Pac-12 Tournament games, Bradley has gone 2-2, averaging 16 points per game, shooting 40.7 percent, which sits below his San Diego State season average of 17.8 points per game, on 44 percent shooting.

Credit: Don De Mars/ EVT Sports

With another in-state matchup lined up, giving Matt Bradley the space to score early would calm unsettled minds going into late-game scenarios. A single possession has decided their last two games, and considering San Diego State is 20-1 this season when leading at the half, Bradley should not wait for the second half. Both teams are aware another slugfest is on its way, so the Aztecs need their captain to punch early and fast.

2. Do not let Orlando Robinson beat you

Since the start of the Coach Dutcher and Steve Fisher era, the Aztecs have an 18-9 winning record over Fresno State (19-12, 8-9 MW). Justin Hutson’s squad was a shot from winning one of those in Viejas only a week ago and narrowly missed this arrangement. The Bulldogs’ opening tournament game had San Jose State keeping up until overtime, where Trey Anderson missed on a game-winning three-pointer, giving Fresno State a 69-67 win.

Fresno State enters Thursday’s game with tired legs, facing a rested and prepared San Diego State team.

Orlando Robinson still causes mayhem in the paint as he is coming off two straight 30-plus point games. Stopping him requires the Aztecs to resort to double-teams early to disrupt his offensive rhythm and force turnovers as they did in their first matchup. Versus San Diego State’s defenders, the Bulldog big turned over the ball a combined eight times in two appearances. Nathan Mensah has to stay in the game at all costs to contest in the painted area and also nimble enough to follow him at the perimeter. Mensah is better suited to go one-on-one against 7-footer, as he carries the honor of Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year.

Credit: Don De Mars/ EVT Sports

As the Fresno State junior is coming off three straight overtime games, his legs are likely to be taxed for their meeting. San Diego State’s suffocating defense has an edge there and will be key in denying Robinson buckets and possessions.

3. Break the 3-seed jinx

There has been a lot of talk about SDSU earning the three-seed, despite having opened conference tournament play with a victory in each of its last 14 league tourney appearances. It marks the second time since joining the Mountain West Conference that the Aztecs have been the third seed.

Their only other time as a three seed resulted in a loss.

In 2007, a feisty 17-12 Colorado State team upset the 21-10 Aztecs at the Thomas and Mack Center. With under two minutes left in the game, the underdog Rams took a 64-62 lead and closed out the game. That lineup led by Brandon Heath and Lorrenzo Wade went on to play in the NIT but would lose to Syracuse in the second round.

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Dutcher doesn’t mind playing the final Mountain West game tomorrow nor the late game on Friday night – should they beat Fresno State. He said it’s the “quick turnaround after the late-night [Friday] game and then an [Saturday] afternoon game for the championship. I do not care who you are. That is hard on anybody.“

San Diego State looks forward to going winning three games in three days to cut down a net and hang another banner in Viejas Arena. Yet to get to a Saturday afternoon celebration, they have to break a jinx by beating Fresno State.

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