After getting swept by Utah State, San Diego State woke up and chose violence. The Aztecs swept the Air Force Falcons last week in a not-so-gentle fashion, and the rest of their conference schedule should continue helping their record (11-4, 5-3 Mountain West).
SDSU was picked to finish at the top of the conference but hasn’t shown the consistency it needs to be there. Yet. The Aztecs defeated ranked UCLA and Arizona State teams earlier this season, but the hype around them went down when they lost their conference opener to Colorado State. That game saw the Rams come back from a 26-point deficit, the largest comeback in Mountain West history.
The Aztecs’ most recent hiccup was losing back-to-back games to Utah State. The Aggies are one of the strongest teams in the conference and SDSU was playing without its most consistent scorer, Matt Mitchell, who averages 14.9 points per game.
Head coach Brian Dutcher said the losses were disappointing, but the team had to move past it.
“I told [the team] our best basketball is ahead of us,” he said after the second loss. “We have to believe that. We have to keep practicing hard and getting better everyday, and that’s what we’re going to do.“
That’s why the Aztecs left nothing to chance when they played Air Force. SDSU is a program known for its defense-first mentality, but the Aztecs took it to the next level. On Jan. 22, the first game of the series, the Aztecs held Air Force to only 16 points in the first half. The game ended with a 98-61 win for SDSU, but Dutcher said there was no time to celebrate.
“Well, I said this is like going to the dentist, but it was a good checkup today,” Dutcher said. “We can’t get full of ourselves and not know that this is a team that’s going to come out and play inspired basketball against us on Sunday.”
The Aztecs picked up a 91-59 win on Sunday. Mitchell was back, but was on a time restriction. Air Force is toward the bottom of the conference standings, but the victories should give SDSU more confidence moving forward. The remaining conference schedule looks promising.
SDSU faces Wyoming for two games next. The Cowboys are in the middle of the standings after reaching their 4-4 conference record with a sweep against Nevada. Freshman Marcus Williams earned the latest Mountain West Player of the Week honor by averaging 20.5 points against the Wolf Pack. Wyoming should still be a manageable challenge for the Aztecs.
They will then face New Mexico and San Jose State, who are at the bottom of the conference. Both teams only have one conference win each, and those came against each other.
Fresno State is 3-6 with just one more conference win than Air Force. The most difficult games for the Aztecs will come during the last series of the regular season as they host the Boise State Broncos, who at the time of this publication are 9-0 in the Mountain West.
SDSU has a lot of time to prepare for Boise State, but the conference has already shown that the top teams are too close to each other for comfort. Until then, the team will continue looking for consistency while Mitchell continues to heal.