Coming off a historically great NCAA Tournament run, finishing as the runner-up, the expectations for San Diego State felt as high as ever—despite losing multiple key players in Nathan Mensah, Adam Seiko and Matt Bradley, among others.
Even though the Aztecs started 10-2 and were unquestionably top-4/5 team in the conference, it wasn’t the smoothest of starts, narrowly escaping Washington and California in overtime and intracity foe UC San Diego on Dec. 9.
A win is a win, but SDSU didn’t feel as dominant as a few of its counterparts—Colorado State, Nevada, Utah State and New Mexico—in non-conference play ... until Dec. 29.
Neither SDSU nor Gonzaga had a Quad 1 win in non-conference play before their meeting that Friday, which resulted in an 84-74 win over the Zags in Spokane, Wash. The Aztecs rallied together their fourth-best offensive game of the season, tallying nearly 114 points per 100 possessions with an effective field goal percentage of 56.2 percent, second to only their Nov. 17 win over another fellow WCC member Saint Mary’s (57.1 eFG%).
It held up on the defensive end against Ryan Nembhard, former Wyoming big Graham Ike and Co., but the victory was a momentum builder heading into MW play.
“We’re 10-2, obviously, you want to be 12-0, but 10-2 with the schedule we played is pretty good,” Dutcher said after Friday’s game. “We’re healthy, we’re getting better, and we have to continue that growth into the New Year.
“I thought we played tough,” he added. “We found a way to continue to concentrate still get stops and make enough plays to get a win here.”
It followed suit with a dominant 27-point win over Fresno State to open Mountain West play Wednesday, despite Reese Waters suffering an ankle injury beforehand.
The Aztecs posted its best defensive outing of the season against a below-average Bulldogs squad, who’s the second-worst opponent it’s played this season, holding them to barely 71 points per 100 possessions with a poultry 38.2 effective field goal percentage.
Every team has its ups and downs at some point in the season. Nevertheless, Thursday marked one of its most dominant victories of the season after an emotional road win against Gonzaga, indicating that this recent two-game stretch could suggest that their early season blues are past them.
“As long as our numbers are good in NET and Kenpom, that’s all that matters,” Dutcher said. “Rankings are not a part of whether you make the (NCAA Tournament) field or not. It’s where you sit metrically, and I think we’ve done a good job positioning ourselves.”