1. Get Matt Bradley in an offensive rhythm early.
Matt Bradley, who played a season-high 39 minutes on Thursday night, has to carry this team in Reno on tired legs.
Bradley recorded a rare double-double as he scored 26 points and secured a career-high ten rebounds against the Bulldogs. However, it was his effort after the second half that got them the victory – the senior provided eight of the team’s 11 overtime points. Throughout their contest, a clearly gassed SDSU tried to both put the ball in the basket and defend at a high level for two halves and two overtime periods.
“It was such a scramble at the end [of the game],” said Brian Dutcher to media on Thursday evening. “I cannot remember who shot what or who missed what. It was not pretty, but it was a beautiful victory.”
Dutcher gave significant minutes to 10 players to control Orlando Robinson in the post and to also manufacture offense. Role players were mainly absent on production and will need to ramp it up on Saturday. Lamont Butler played 26 minutes without a point. Early foul trouble sidelined Nathan Mensah to only three points in 18 minutes. Spark plug Chad Baker-Mazara scored only two points in 12 minutes.
Their poor offensive performance allowed Fresno State to capitalize and go on multiple scoring runs in the second half, recapturing the lead. After seeing the tape, Nevada knows if they can minimize Bradley’s impact, they have a chance of winning.
Bradley has to get into an offensive rhythm as he did at Wyoming so that their meeting with Nevada does not need to be decided by free throws. With the regular-season finale finally here, Bradley and his teammates have to muster their remaining energy playing the Wolf Pack.
2. Watch out for Warren Washington.
Steve Alford’s Nevada Wold Pack (12-16, 6-11 MW) has lost four in a row and has not played at home since Tuesday, February 22. Nevada’s Senior Night awaits both teams, and with no at-large bid coming for the Wolf Pack, Saturday might mean more to some. Desmond Cambridge, who led the Wolf Pack in their previous contest, might see the end of his time in Nevada but might be relieved to have a son of San Diego back in uniform.
Warren Washington, a 7-footer out of San Marcos’ Mission Hills High, has not faced off opposite San Diego State. The San Diegan returned to play against UNLV after missing eight matches due to a hand injury suffered on January 25. Brian Dutcher called Steve Alford after their matchup in February and complimented the Wolf Pack’s tenacity, especially without Grant Sherfield and Warren Washington.
The Aztecs will not be looking forward to guarding another 7-footer as Washington has rattled off three straight games scoring double-digits, including a double-double performance against the Rebels. The Nevada player averages 1.3 blocked shots per game and averages 6.4 rebounds per game. In the three games playing opposite to San Diego State last year, he averaged 9.3 points and three rebounds per game.
In order to play high-octane defense, Nathan Mensah has to stop fouling early. Quick fouls allowed Orlando Robinson more time and space to execute. It is a good thing Washington is not a threat from the perimeter. Nevada’s big man plays like a traditional center and will attempt shots in the painted area. Aztec defenders will be able to defend one-on-one instead of double-teaming as they attempted with Fresno State’s Robinson.
Wolf Pack guards Sherfield and Cambridge, power this offense, and would like to continue getting their big guy involved. The Aztecs must disrupt and deny Washington an easy path to the basket. They have to push him away from the key and have their guards try to beat the stout Aztec defense.
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3. Make free throws.
Matt Bradley knows this well, and now Trey Pulliam does.
On the final San Diego State possession against Fresno State, Trey Pulliam was fouled with a one-point lead. Two made free throws would have guaranteed another overtime or put the game away.
De Ja Vu does not fare well for this team. Pulliam missed both free throws, and again the ball was in the hands of their opponent. The Aztecs readily gathered on defense, and Joshua Tomaic partially blocked the potential go-ahead shot.
The contest itself saw several moments of missed referee calls, but the one stat remains– SDSU’s 59 percent on free throws.
Dutcher’s players were 16-of-27 from the line, well below their season average of 69.1 percent. Matt Bradley did his part and converted 8-of-10 from the charity stripe, but as a team, they will need to execute better. In their last game, the team shot a modest 17-of-23 free throws, and at Wyoming, they were 13-of-17.
With plenty of tired legs to go around the roster, and the defensive energy needed to keep the Wolf Pack at bay, they will need every single point where they can get it. Exhausted legs might make shorter jump shots, but execution at the free-throw line can get them out of scoring troubles.
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.