Entering the polls at #24, moving up to #20, and then dropping to #21 after beating three teams in a row by an average of 49.7 points. I said it once and I will say it again, Aztecs deserve some respect.
Maybe the pollsters took offense to the Aztecs accepting a game verse St. Katherine, a team playing in it’s first season and with less than 150 students.
The Aztecs wanted to be 11-1 going into the Kansas University matchup and had a solidified test verse Colorado St. The Rams lost 5 of their starters from last years NCAA Tournament team. They played well in the first half as 2013 transfer J.J. Avila led the way. The big man was playing very consistent until fouling out at the end of the second half and finishing with 15 points and 6 rebounds. Guard Daniel Bejarano led the Rams with 22 points.
A steady diet of defense is what led the way. The Aztec defense played phenomenal, hustling getting blocks, steals, and forcing turnovers. SDSU caused 14 turnovers, 9 alone in the first half. Colorado St is averaging only 8.7 turnovers a game this season.
The Aztecs seem to have a ton of the same player. Other than their big men Josh Davis and Skylar Spencer, most of their players are lanky, athletic players from the height range of 6′ 5″ – 6′ 8″. Steve Fisher has got his players pressing and playing hard all over the court. He has created a defensive culture here in San Diego.
Speaking of Josh Davis, who averaged over 17 points a game last season with Tulane, he had another great rebound night. It seems rebounding is all they ask of Davis as he is a beast on the boards. He finished the game with 15 Rebounds and 7 points. He did not score a single point in the first half and had 8 rebounds. He had 4 offensive rebounds, but failed to take advantage of a few put backs.
Skylar Spencer also failed to execute on a few put backs. Spencer is an extraordinary defender and shot blocker, but also struggles in his offensive game. They Sophomore added 4 blocks to his top 50-ranking blocks-per-game average (ranked #40 at 2.58/game).
Xavier Thames continues to play phenomenal as he scored 23 points going 4-4 on free throws down the ending stretch of the game. Xavier Thames is averaging over 16 points a game this season.
Winston Sheppard continues to show his athleticism and potential scoring 17 points. He is a little wild, similar to former Aztec star Jamaal Franklin, but he is slowly learning his handles and is improving as a player every game.
The Aztecs have a lot of roll players this season. They have their scorers in Sheppard and Thames, and their rebounders in Davis and Spencer. Their bench has also been a huge factor. Players like Dwayne Polee, Aqeel Quinn, Matt Shrigley have been playing well off the bench. Each of these players are exceptional defenders as well. This depth on the bench has been a huge part of San Diego’s success so far in the 2013-14 season.
J.J. O’Brien is finally starting to come back in full swing. He was a huge part of the Aztecs success at the end of last season and has been playing well this season. He injured his hand back in the Wooden Classic, and has not been the scorer he used to be. He is slowly coming back and will be a huge part of San Diego’s NCAA Tournament run. The Aztecs are happy to have O’Brien back semi-healthy for the Kansas game.
The one thing SDSU can look to improve on is free throws and finishing. Although the Aztecs won by 10 points in Colorado, they could have easily put away the Rams sooner. They caused a few turnovers in which they could not finish with points. They missed wide open layups and embarassed themselves a few times. Also, they struggled early on to make free throws. You can argue that this was mainly because big men like Davis and Spencer were getting fouled and they are not good free throw shooters.
If SDSU wants to really challenge the Kansas Jayhawks, they will need to bring their A-game. They will need to finish when they cause turnovers, and hit clutch free throws. Anything is possible.