San Diego State plays a complete game in an entertaining win against Utah State, 81-67.
The threes were flying for the Aztecs in their contest against conference leader and 17th-ranked Utah State (19-3, 7-2 MWC). San Diego State (17-5, 6-3 MWC) hit 9-20 for 45% from beyond the arc to effectively maintain their lead against the Aggies. Utah State started the game fast and built a 7-point lead early on. The Aztecs fought back to lead 42-36 at halftime and built upon that lead to win by 14. As usual, leading scorer Jaedon LeDee finished with 16 points and 9 rebounds. Great Osobor led the Aggies with 17 points and 7 rebounds. Physicality, cuts and crisp passes were the signature hallmark of both teams. Coach Brian Dutcher tweaked his starting lineup to counter the Aggies. Jay Pal, Jaedon LeDee, Lamont Butler, Reese Waters and Darrion Trammell were featured front and center in an attempt to avoid another upset loss like last week against Colorado State. The starters responded well with Pal scoring 16 and Trammell adding 12 more. Strong bench play by Micaeh Parrish, who contributed 14, assured the Aztecs of a strong, consistent game. Parrish also contributed a long range three and gestured he was calling making a long distance call, much to the delight of the Aztec faithful. Aggies were assisted by freshman guard Mason Falslev with 16 and Darius Brown II with 13 points and 8 rebounds. Both teams started three guards in an attempt to control the fast pace of the game. One must recall that the Aggies have a new head coach in Danny Sprinkle and that the team returned no scoring performers from last years team. It has been a complete makeover. There must have been some magic dust sprinkled on this years squad.
Viejas was rocking again as a sell-out of 12,414 contributed to the strong home-court advantage. As goes home court, so goes the victors. The MWC, arguably one of the strongest conferences in the country, continually cannibalizes each other. Whoever is leading, is subject to a quick exit. The Aztecs have seven remaining games, three of which are home. Two road games, against Air Force and Fresno State, on paper, look like wins. The other two should be examples of watch your back, as they are against Nevada and a revenge game against Utah State. Barring any imminent collapse, the MWC should have six teams heading into the NCAA tournament. The Aztecs, Aggies and New Mexico all should receive high bids followed by Boise State, Nevada and Colorado State following behind.
The teams started slowly, probing for weaknesses. The Aggies were the first to get warm with three-pointers from Ian Martinez and Mason Falslev. Jay Pal answered inside with a dunk and Miles Byrd added a block. Most of the first half was a teeter-totter affair with the Aggies holding on for small leads. The Aztecs slowly moved the momentum needle and took the lead with 5 minutes left on a Lamont Butler layup. The Aggies would commit a series of turnovers and the Aztecs would close out the first half on a Pal layup and a Waters three pointer. With the score 42-36 at halftime, the Aztecs had made up the 7 point difference and were on their way to coast to victory. The second half was more of the same including Jaedon LeDee aggressively driving the lanes and shooting free throws. Pal would be a perfect 5/5 from the field and 2/2 from the charity stripe. His presence should lend confidence to the Aztecs heading into the end of the season.
It appears it doesn’t matter who will win the conference or the tournament. Barring an unlikely tournament victor, ie: Fresno State, San Jose State or Wyoming, it appears as if the aforementioned six teams should get an invite. Next up would be the NIT and/or the CBI and probably UNLV or Wyoming being invited. For Fresno, San Jose and Air Force it is wait until next year or at least wait until football season begins. Speaking of, new coaches abound, two new teams will be playing MWC teams this next year. Who would have thought that the Nick Saban retirement would lead to a carousel of coaching changes? And don’t get one started on the transfer portal. There may be more tightening up that in the future as well. Another week of Mountain West Basketball. Boise is strong. SDSU is strong, Utah State is strong. New Mexico looks legit. Nevada and Colorado State are Jekyll and Hyde. This ladies and gentlemen is the insanity of MWC basketball.