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No. 6 Arizona passes a difficult test at San Diego State

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After controlling the run of play for much of the night, No. 6 Arizona found itself in need of a big play with San Diego State mounting a charge at Viejas Arena. With “The Show” roaring and the Aztecs within four points thanks to a Xavier Thames layup, the Wildcats were confronted with a baseline out of bounds situation late in the shot clock with 1:22 remaining.

The solution: head coach Sean Miller drawing up a play that freed up freshman forward Aaron Gordon for an impressive alley-oop. Gordon missed the ensuing free throw but the play itself allowed Arizona to regain control of the proceedings, and they’d go on to win by a final score of 69-60. Gordon, who made his first five shots, was all over the box score with 16 points, eight rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots but he was just one of the key figures in the victory.

Nick Johnson scored a game-high 23 points and shot 7-for-9 from inside of the arc, knocking down shots at key junctures in the game when it seemed as if SDSU was one stop away from making things even tighter. Freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson gave the Wildcats some valuable minutes off the bench, and point guard T.J. McConnell handled his responsibilities with the maturity many expected when the Duquesne transfer was “handed the keys” to the attack.

But outside of Gordon and Johnson’s offensive output, what Arizona was able to do defensively against an athletic San Diego State squad may be the biggest thing to take out of the result. There’s no doubting the fact that the Aztecs have significant questions to answer offensively; the losses of both Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley are huge in that both players had the ability to get Steve Fisher’s team a basket when they needed one.

With those two gone SDSU had to rely on its athleticism to put points on the board, and Arizona made things difficult for much of the night. San Diego State shot just 36% from the field, and players other than Thames (19 points), J.J. O’Brien (19) and Winston Shepard III (12) accounted for ten points on 3-for-12 shooting. And in the paint Tulane transfer Josh Davis, who averaged a double-double last season and should be an impact player for San Diego State, struggled against the Arizona big men (Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski).

San Diego State will certainly get better as the season wears on, and given UNLV’s struggles (yes, it’s early) the Aztecs and Boise State look to be New Mexico’s biggest threats in the Mountain West. Arizona’s going to get better as well, and the experience of winning in a hostile environment will benefit them down the line.

Illinois State ends No. 21 Wichita State’s 12-game win streak

Fred VanVleet
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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Having won 12 straight games, No. 21 Wichita State entered the weekend one of the hottest teams in the country. And with a four-game lead atop the Missouri Valley standings, clinching the regular season title was more a matter of “when” as opposed to “if.” But none of that mattered Saturday night at Illinois State, as the Redbirds managed to hand the Shockers their first conference loss by the final score of 58-53.

In addition to the 12-game win streak, which was second to Stony Brook (15 straight wins), Wichita State also saw its 19-game win streak in Valley regular season games come to an end. Illinois State was the last Valley team to beat Wichita State, eliminating the Shockers in the Arch Madness semifinals last March, and they played with the confidence of a team that believed it could win.

And after a rough first half the Redbirds found a way to come back, erasing a 16-point second half deficit in the process.

Wichita State’s issue in the second half was the fact that they couldn’t make shots. The Shockers shot just 26.7 percent from the field and 1-for-14 from three in the second half, with Fred VanVleet going scoreless and Shaq Morris scoring just one point. And just two players, Ron Baker and Conner Frankamp, managed to make multiple field goals in the game’s final 20 minutes. Illinois State certainly deserves credit for that, as they took away the quality looks Wichita State was able to find in building its lead.

And on the other end of the floor Paris Lee took control of the game during Illinois State’s comeback, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the second half with Deontae Hawkins adding 11 second-half points. Illinois State was even worse from the field, finishing the game shooting just over 27 percent from the field. But they were able to attack the Wichita State defense and get to the foul line, outscoring the Shockers 22-9 from the charity stripe. And in a game in which neither team could get much going offensively, the ability to get points from the line proved to be the difference.

This defeat doesn’t help Wichita State, but did anything really change? Maybe the margin for error when it comes to an at-large bid gets a little smaller with the loss in the eyes of some. But when considering injuries to the likes of VanVleet and Anton Grady in non-conference play, those early season losses are understandable. Saturday was a rough night for Wichita State, but given the maturity and talent on at Gregg Marshall’s disposal the Shockers will be fine moving forward.

VIDEO: New Mexico loses game on blown call by officials

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Nothing like a nice, controversial finish to get the blood flowing.

New Mexico was on the receiving end of a rule misinterpretation on Saturday afternoon, and that interpretation likely cost the Lobos a win over San Diego State and, arguably, a shot at the MWC regular season title.

Here’s the situation: New Mexico is up by three with 12 seconds left and the ball under their own basket. Their allowed to run the baseline, so Craig Neal calls a play where the inbounder throws the ball to a player running out of bounds.

Totally league as long as the player establishes out of bounds before touching the ball. The referee rules that he doesn’t.

Here’s the video:

The problem?

According to the rules, Xavier Adams — the player receiving the pass from Cullen Neal — only needed one foot on the floor out of bounds in order to establish himself as an inbounder that was able to catch that ball. He got one foot down (see the picture above), but the referees appeared to rule that he needed to have both feet down.

That was incorrect, according to the Mountain West office.

“While this was a very close judgment call made at full speed, it has been determined after careful review of slow-motion video replays the call was in fact incorrect,” the league said in a release. “The New Mexico player did get one foot down (two feet are not required) out-of-bounds before receiving the ball, thus establishing his location in accordance NCAA Basketball Playing Rules 4.23.1.a and 7.1.1.  By rule, the officials were not permitted to go to the monitor during the game to review this play.”

And here’s the kicker: When SDSU got the ball back, they hit a three to send the game into overtime, where the Aztecs won. But if New Mexico had won this game, they’d be sitting at 8-2 in MWC play, one game behind SDSU in the loss column with a return game against them in The Pit.

Instead, they’re now three games back with seven to play, meaning that the race is effectively over.

It’s tough to blame the referees here — it was a bang-bang call that is only clear in slow-motion replay — but man, that’s a big call to miss.