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Injured Aztecs crushed at the Kennel by Gonzaga

The ‘Zags are tall. They shot the lights out and owned the boards. The Final Four-caliber team beat the Monty out of the Aztecs. Will this loss light a fire under San Diego State? This writer thinks so.

Cheatham inbounds while rabid Bulldogs fans desecrate the American flag.

On Monday night, in Spokane, Washington, San Diego State played Gonzaga at the Kennel, and lost big.

SDSU’s biggest margin of defeat over the last nine seasons and 260 games was 26 points at New Mexico in 2009. They were down 30 midway through the second half Monday before ultimately losing 69-48 to the 13th-ranked Bulldogs.

For a brief moment, the Aztecs reverted to a team that could not play offense or handle a standard 2-3 zone, and fans collectively panicked.

Gonzaga’s lineup of giants included a 6’10” player, two at 6’11” and 7’, and TWO more at 7’1”. The Aztecs have height, but the Bulldogs were freakin’ huge.

The game actually started well enough. SDSU missed its first seven shots, but the Zags bricked their first eight and the Aztecs then took the lead and gained confidence. When the Aztecs subbed out at the first media timeout, it was 6-2, Aztecs.

Four minutes later, it was 17-8, Zags. And they just kept rolling. Soon it became apparent that several bigs could sink threes from the perimeter. Oh s**t.

SDSU had zero assists at halftime, and the team shot 28.6 percent for the entire game. This is not a winning formula. While Trey Kell and Jeremy Hemsley each had 14 points, no one else had more than six. The giant Bulldogs, combined with the maniacal fans proved a menacing combination, as the Aztecs played a rushed tempo.

Gonzaga shot just 39.4 percent and still won by 21 against a team receiving votes in both major polls. While we did not experience the best the Aztecs had to offer, the Bulldogs played brilliantly, and will likely go deep in this year’s NCAA Tourney.

“Against a good team like this, that’s a recipe to get beat up,” Steve Fisher said, “and we got beat up ... We lost our mental capacity to think at the offensive end. Everything we did was too fast. It looked like we were trying to score 10 points in one possession. And you can’t do that.

“When we slowed down, and we did on occasion, we got the kind of looks we want. But we didn’t make enough of those. Then the mental part went right down the tubes and we tried to do things too fast (again). We’re driving on 6-10, 6-11, 7-footers.”

Even SDSU radio announcer Ted Leitner, lost his connection and called the game in a loud arena via cell phone, while crazy Gonzaga fans exuded cheerful obnoxiousness.

San Diego State v Gonzaga
Beloved fans? Or hicks from the sticks?
Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images

The ‘Zags fans however, failed to impress ESPN during halftime with what was touted to be the largest mannequin challenge to date. It was so bad, that SDSU’s loss was not the worst thing that viewers witnessed on Monday night in Spokane. It was so bad that ‘Zag’s alum and NBA legend John Stockton, who was in attendance allegedly shook his head, got up and left the building.

It hurt SDSU that Malik Pope, Max Hoetzel, and Ben Perez were all side-lined with injuries while Valentine Izundu, and a gimpy Matt Shrigley managed limited minutes.

A few highlights included Aztecs 6-10 graduate transfer Valentine Izundu who had four blocks. He swatted 7-1, 300-pound Przemek Karnowski on Gonzaga’s second possession and forced a miss from 6-10 Johnathan Williams on its third. He did not waver in a sea of bigs.

While Kell and Hemsley worked the perimeter, they were both punished on multiple occasions when trying to drive to the basket. Canadian Aztecs, Nolan Narian and Montaque Gill Caesar showed flickers of major skill against the tyrannical Bulldogs.

San Diego State might not experience a pairing so challenging again until March. This beating could serve an important purpose for the Aztecs, by igniting a fire that will burn brightly for the remainder of the season and give them a chip on their shoulders and a standard to aspire toward. Let’s hope so.