Aztecs open basketball season by routing No. 22 UCLA
San Diego State picks up where it left off a year ago and dominates Bruins
It wasn’t in front of the 17,204 fans that were in Anaheim’s Honda Center the last time they played, or the 12,414 that usually fill the canyon of red seats at Viejas Arena.
It wasn’t in front of anybody, in fact, other than a few dozen staff and media, some cardboard cutouts (including one of, yes, former Aztecs forward Winston Shepard) and a guy pumping in crowd noise from a laptop.
But it goes in the books just the same: San Diego State beat No. 22 UCLA in men’s basketball 73-58 on Wednesday night.
It doesn’t happen very often. This was only the second time in, oh, 80 years. It was the first by double digits since 1939.
It was a sweet way for the Aztecs to open their centennial season of college basketball and proof of what coach Brian Dutcher preaches ad nauseum, that program is tantamount to players.
Malachi Flynn is off to the NBA. Yanni Wetzell is playing pro ball in Australia. Defensive stopper KJ Feagin is gone, too. But those who returned plus a couple veteran newcomers carried on the aura of last season’s 30-2 record and No. 6 national ranking with the consummate team effort — unselfish passing, balanced scoring, helpside defense, ferocious rebounding, bench depth, mental tenacity.
“We expect to win, and that’s no disrespect to UCLA,” Dutcher said. “Coach (Steve) Fisher said a long time ago that we’re not a one-hit wonder, that we built a program.”
“I see it as our first of hopefully many wins,” senior Matt Mitchell said.
Six Aztecs scored at least eight points, led by Mitchell and Jordan Schakel with 15 each, and eight had baskets. Four players made 3-pointers. Seven had at least three rebounds. Eight had an assist.
Stat of the night: six.
That’s how many offensive fouls the Aztecs drew.
The fifth was a charge taken by Aguek Arop to send UCLA star Chris Smith to the bench with his fourth foul with 10:35 to go and extinguish a run by a Bruins team already missing a pair of projected starters. A minute later, the Aztecs led by 16.
Jalen Hill and Kentucky transfer Johnny Juzang – their best rim protector and outside shooter, respectively – were on the bench but in street clothes, Hill with tendinitis in his knee and Juzang in a walking boot for a foot injury.
“It would have been nice to have Johnny to shoot it in and make plays on offense,” said UCLA coach Mick Cronin, never one to mince words, “and it would have been nice to have Jalen, but that was no excuse. Our defensive effort, both mentally and physically, was just embarrassing.”
Cronin also said: “Outplayed in every phase of the game.”
And: “An F in all categories in terms of being prepared for this buzz saw.”
And: “We did mind-boggling stuff, to be honest, like total regression.”
And: “It wasn’t like they surprised us. (UCLA assistant Rod) Palmer was on their staff. We knew every play they were going to run, we knew everything they were going to do. What happened to us is when things don’t go our way on offense, we pout on defense. That’s the No. 1 trait of a losing team.”
And: “Our defense was just atrocious. I knew it was fool’s gold. I knew we were in trouble even when we were ahead.”
The Bruins led for the game’s opening 11 minutes, making 3s on their first two possession and probably wondering why their coaches harped all week about SDSU’s vaunted defense that was ranked 10th nationally last season. They didn’t have a turnover for the first five minutes and made eight of their first 10 shots.
“We stay level-headed the whole game,” Schakel said, “so when they came out hot, we did not panic.”
Rest of the game: 9-of-33 shooting, 15 turnovers.
“You’ve got 15 turnovers and only 43 shots,” Cronin bemoaned. “The other team gets 58 shots and you get 43. You don’t need to get admitted to UCLA to know that’s 15 more shots that we got.”
The Aztecs turned a six-point deficit into a 34-28 halftime lead, then grew the margin to 12 on 3s by Mitchell and Schakel to open the second half.
With the Bruins bench shortened, Dutcher’s strategy became apparent early. He was going to throw bodies at the Bruins and press them, turning the game into a war of attrition. He went 10 deep in the first half and wasn’t afraid to put lineups of four backups on the floor together. Nine guys played at least 12 minutes; only two played more than 28.
The exclamation point was not an emphatic dunk or area-code 3 but a drive into the lane by Terrell Gomez, all 5-8 of him, in the final minutes with the shot-clock running down. Gomez got amongst the UCLA trees, pump faked, twisted, fell away and hoisted a short shot that crept onto the front rim … and rolled in.
“We’re happy as heck that we’re actually playing basketball,” Dutcher said. “It’s been 264 days since we’ve played (in a game), so it’s fun to get this season started.”
Next up is UC Irvine, Friday at 4 p.m. at Viejas Arena. The Anteaters played the early game Wednesday, losing 86-72 against Pepperdine. UCLA plays Pepperdine here at noon Friday … The Aztecs won their eighth straight season opener and 16th straight 比特币交易网home opener … The consortium that assigns officials for both the Pac-12 and Mountain West sent its A crew: Verne Harris, Randy McCall and Eric Curry. All have previously worked Final Fours … Even without fans, Viejas Arena played a recording of The Show’s “I Believe” chant before tip-off …
Mensah played in his first game since Dec. 28 against Cal Poly before his season was ended by a blood clot in his lung. He had four points on 2 of 5 shooting and seven rebounds … UCLA’s Smith, who entered the NBA Draft last spring before returning for his senior season, had 10 points in the first half and none in the second half. And, as Cronin pointed out, no rebounds at 6-9 ... Sophmore Jaime Jaquez Jr. led UCLA with 17 points on 6 of 10 shooting, including 3 of 5 beyond the arc.
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