One of college basketball’s two remaining undefeated teams, No. 13-ranked San Diego State travels to face defending Mountain West Conference champion Utah State Saturday at Dee Glen Smith Spectrum in Logan, Utah.
San Diego State (14-0, 3-0 Mountain West) overcame a sluggish offensive start in its 61-52 defeat of Fresno State on Wednesday. The Aztecs shot 33.3 percent from the floor in the first half, including just 2-of-10 from behind the 3-point line, but recovered to shoot almost 60 percent from the field in the second.
“I don’t think we made too many adjustments, I just think we missed some shots,” said guard Malachi Flynn in the postgame press conference. “We tried to just get the ball movement and stuck with it in the second half. Matt (Mitchell) gave us a boost, a couple buckets and was getting to the line a lot. Getting easy points like that definitely helped us in the second half.”
Mitchell had been San Diego State’s spark plug off the bench in nonconference play, but made the start Wednesday against Fresno State. He delivered with 15 points, 13 of which came in the second half.
Flynn, San Diego State’s leading scorer on the season at 15.5 points per game, scored a team-high 16 points in Wednesday’s win. That put him over 1,000 on his career, which included two seasons at Washington State before his transfer.
“I was not really aware of it until they made the announcement in game, but it is really cool,” he said. “I’ve seen guys reach 1,000 points and it’s cool to finally reach that.”
Utah State (13-3, 2-1) earned a preseason Top 25 ranking despite missing standout 6-foot-11 center Neemias Queta at the beginning of the campaign.
Queta sustained a knee injury playing for Portugal’s FIBA U-20 team this summer. He returned Dec. 7 against Fresno State, and was coming along with games of 11 points and nine rebounds Dec. 14 vs. BYU plus 18 points and eight rebounds Dec. 18 against South Florida.
In the Aggies’ 65-62 defeat of Florida on Dec. 21, Queta left with a leg injury. He did not play a week later in a 129-61 romp over NAIA program Eastern Oregon, nor on Wednesday in Utah State’s surprising, 70-53 loss at UNLV.
The Runnin’ Rebels held reigning Mountain West Player of the Year Sam Merrill to 10 points, 7.1 below his season-long average.
“(UNLV) did a good job of pressuring us and getting us off our spots,” Utah State coach Craig Smith said to the Herald Journal. “We’ve seen that a million times and faced a lot of teams that do that and we’ve handled it much better than we did tonight. They got us off our spots and we didn’t execute the way we needed to.”
The Aggies can anticipate more steady pressure from a San Diego State defense that ranks No. 11 in the nation in adjusted efficiency, per KenPom.com. The Aztecs hold opponents to 27.3 percent shooting from behind the 3-point line, 42.7 percent from inside the arc, and force turnovers on 23 percent of defensive possessions.
–Field Level Media