Don Bauder 5:30 p.m., March 10
After securing a quite convincing victory on Saturday after noon at home venue Viejas Arena the San Diego State Men's Basketball team had something to hold their head high about. Sure, the 75-53 victory over a feisty Fresno State team was an accomplishment, but I contend that this victory may not be the only thing making the team smile.
Looking back the team has escaped the first half of their brutal conference schedule with a minimal three losses. The first of these defeats came at home to an extremely tough and talented UNLV team that outworked the Aztecs on the glass all game long, this ultimately being the demise of the Aztecs during the closing moments of the game. A second defeat came at the hands of the Wyoming Cowboys after the Aztecs were only able to put up a grand total of nine point in the first half. A third and final conference loss came at Air Force Academy after the Aztecs managed to shoot a deplorable 2-19 from three point land, and still only losing by a margin of one of those missed three point field goals. As intimidating as three losses may look on paper, any one of these losses could be remedied by simple fixes in the rematch games. In other words, the Aztecs were not blown away by a team that was significantly more talented than them.
Perhaps, the most comforting feeling at this point for the Aztecs is they are in control of their own destiny. While you could make a similar statement regarding a team like Fresno State, the Aztecs have a legitimate shot at running the table in conference play and securing a first place seed in the conference tournament. As the conference stands now, the Aztecs are one game out of first place. The two teams that they trail are conference power house University of New Mexico and Colorado State. Both of these teams were defeated by the Aztecs in their first encounters. The Aztecs should take comfort in these victories after they dominated the University of New Mexico at home with staunch defense and an unreal rebounding effort. In addition to the win versus the Lobos the Aztecs were able to eke out an overtime victory against the Colorado State Rams after a second half 18 point collapse.
The Aztecs look to intensify the onslaught against their conference opponents on the back of James Rahon's recent superior play. Rahon, who had struggled to find himself and any form of consistency at the outset of the season has been on fire his last his last two games scoring 16 and 14 points respectively. Other keys for this team are the stabilization of J.J. O'Brien's somewhat schizophrenic play, the emergence of another serious threat off the bench, and the return of Xavier Thames. The Aztecs appear to present major match up problems when O'Brien is in a position to consistently snag rebounds on both sides of the floor and get easy put back buckets. Coach Steve Fisher appears to give Dwayne Pollee II a bulk of his minutes when the Aztecs look like they are in a commanding position in the game. Having Pollee come off the bench and provide the kind of boost--8 points and a rebound in 10 minutes--he did against Fresno State would be invaluable to the Aztecs. The continual emergence of these players, and continued consistent play by the remainder of the starters make a return for Xavier Thames that much easier. Thames would be able to come on the floor for limited minutes if necessary, and not feel the immediate pressure to be an impact player. Instead, Thames would be able to focus on the single greatest asset he brings to the team--being a floor general who controls the pace and distribution of Aztecs offense. While sunshine is not for sale from this outfit, there is more than good reason for fans to get fired up for the next seven games. To make the plot that much richer the Aztecs will cruise into Fort Collins, Colorado to face the Colorado State on Wednesday the 13th at 7 p.m. Pacific Time. Keep in mind a win in Colorado leaves one team between the Aztecs and the top. It's time to cancel your Wednesday evening plays.