After opening conference play with a three game losing streak, the Aztecs appeared to have turned the corner. They rattled off three wins in a row, getting them back into contention for the regular season title in a wide open Mountain West Conference. But now those hopes are all but dashed.
Last Tuesday, the Aztecs ventured to Colorado Springs and blew a 12 point lead to snap their three game winning streak. Blown double digit leads were something Aztecs fans were not accustomed to seeing over the past 8-10 years, but have become a regular occurrence this season, and they were witness to another one back on Saturday night.
The shorthanded Colorado State Rams went into half time trailing by ten points on the road. The Aztecs quickly pushed the lead to 13 over the first few minutes of the second half, before Colorado State started to chip away, eventually scoring the game winning bucket with 3.9 seconds left, behind 55 second half points.
The loss dropped the Aztecs (11-9, 3-5) to 7th place in the standings. The team that was the overwhelming favorite to win their fourth consecutive regular season title now faces the very real possibility that it may have to play four games in March if they don’t put together another winning streak. Only the top five seeds get a bye and avoid the play in round games that take place on Wednesday. The good news for the Aztecs is that they are catching a Wyoming team that has been stumbling as of late.
The Cowboys (14-8, 4-5) have lost two of their last three, including a blowout loss to Boise State back on Saturday night. The bad news for the Aztecs is this Cowboys team loves to play with pace and loves to shoot 3’s. Something the Aztecs have not defended well against this year. On the season the Cowboys have attempted 603 3-pointers making 190 of those. For comparisons sake, the Aztecs have attempted 475 3-pointers, making 158 of them.
This is a game that will be determined with shooting beyond the arc. If the Aztecs can defend how they are capable of, then they should be able to stymie the Wyoming offense. If they defend the 3-pointer how they have so far this season, they could find themselves in the midst of their third three game losing streak of the season by the end of the night.
Players to watch for the Aztecs
- Malik Pope – the junior forward continues to be an enigma. In his four games back since injuring his leg, he’s scored 9, 2, 7, 19. When the Aztecs get the 19 point version of the freakishly talented forward they are nearly unbeatable. His contributions become even more important if Zylan Cheatham is forced to miss the game tonight with a stress reaction in his foot.
- Trey Kell – the junior guard opened conference play with a major shooting, and while his touch from long range hasn’t returned his scoring touch has, as he has scored in double figures in the last five games.
Players to watch for the Cowboys
- Justin James – the Cowboys leading scorer at 14.6 points per game, can fill it up from anywhere on the floor and is their main deep threat as he’s shooting 37% from long range this season.
- Hayden Dalton – 6’8” junior is scoring 12.9 points per game coming off the bench for Wyoming and is not afraid to take 3-pointers, as he has attempted 87 of them on the season, connecting on 26.
Tuesday night at Viejas Arena with tipoff set for 8 pm pst. The game will be televised on CBS Sports Network.