The San Diego State Aztecs escaped with a narrow 53-49 victory against the University of Utah yesterday in its first ESPN televised game since 2003. It's a win that the Aztecs should be proud of, but they didn't play anything close to their best basketball.
The question of identity has been thrown around on social media, in fan groups, and even to Steve Fisher and his team at press conferences. SDSU hasn't quite found its identity through its first two regular season games, but it's clear what type of team this will not be.
This team will not consist of a two-man wrecking crew depended on for for almost all means of offensive production a la Xavier Thames and Josh Davis last season. Rather than a two-headed monster surrounded by role players, this San Diego State team has six guys that can lead their team to a win on any given night with offense and defense.
The idea of who would step up as "the guy" this year was a hot topic heading into the season. I even wrote a piece on this lovely site asking readers who it would be, naively limiting the options to Dwayne Polee II and Winston Shepard.
Shepard has been good early, sinking nearly 50 percent of his shots on the season but he's also turned the ball over six times in two games. He was limited in the second half yesterday after picking up his fourth foul early. With the closing unit clicking, coach Fisher was unable to find a spot to sub him down the stretch.
The Aztecs held off a late Utah surge with some clutch free throw shooting, converting 12 of 13 to close the game. Of course we'll never know, but the game could have ended differently with the Shepard on the floor. He's 8-12 from the line so far this season and only shot 63 percent last season.
Polee seems to be searching for his rhythm this season after being held scoreless in the first half yesterday afternoon. He dropped eight points in the second half and hit two clutch free throws with nine seconds left to make it a two-score game.
The sample size is small, but we've seen various Aztec players provide the team with a spark. J.J. O'Brien has been the most consistent, averaging 12.5 points and nine rebounds, and secured his first double-double of the year yesterday with 12 and 11. Angelo Chol has contributed eight points off of the bench in each game, including six points in a row during the second half as part of a 9-0 run that gave the Aztecs their initial separation.
Aqeel Quinn shut down Delon Wright, Utah's most talented player, for 38 minutes. Quinn took it back to the schoolyard, suffocating his former Leuzinger High School teammate and best friend. The Aztecs only shot 32 percent as a team too, which makes Quinn's defensive performance even more significant.
Can the Aztecs continue to rely on a total team effort on the offensive end? It's obviously working now, but more talented opponents await before the month's end. My guess? We should have a pretty good idea of what this team is made of by the time the ESPN Maui Invitational is over.
Highlights of SDSU vs. Utah, courtesy of GoAztecs.com.