thames

Improved offensive execution pushes No. 24 San Diego State past Washington

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Just days after surviving a tough test at city rival San Diego, No. 24 San Diego State played arguably its worst half of the season against Washington on Sunday afternoon. While the Aztecs aren’t a team chock full of prolific shooters, they do have multiple athletes capable of finding quality looks both at the rim and in the mid-range game.

But that didn’t happen in the first half, as San Diego State failed to execute offensively and thus struggled with its shooting. As a team SDSU shot 29.7% from the field, 1-for-7 from three and just one of their eight made field goals was assisted, resulting in a 30-21 Husky lead at the break. It was obvious what Steve Fisher’s team needed to do in order to turn things around and to their credit the Aztecs put forth a far better offensive performance in the game’s final 20 minutes.

There was better spacing and passing (ten of their 15 made field goals were assisted), resulting in 60% shooting from the field and 1.36 points per possession. In the end that was enough to hold off Washington 70-63, with C.J. Wilcox scoring 17 to lead three Huskies in double figures. Xavier Thames, who was outstanding during last weekend’s Wooden Legacy, led the way with 19 points and Winston Shepard III added 17 (5-for-6 FT in the game’s final 39 seconds).

SDSU was once again impressive on the defensive end, tying a school record with 11 blocked shots (Skylar Spencer had five) and limiting Washington to 38.6% shooting from the field. By this point in time San Diego State’s ability on the defensive end is a “given,” in that on most nights it’s safe to assume that Fisher’s players will put forth the effort required to make things difficult for the opposition.

It’s on the offensive end where SDSU will determine its standing within the Mountain West. And the difference between merely contending and winning the conference will boil down to how the Aztecs go about finding shots.

If it turns into a “one-on-one” contest like the first half against Washington it’s probably safe to say that they won’t be able to contend with the top teams in the Mountain West. But if San Diego State uses efficient ball and player movement, that combined with their defensive execution should have the Aztecs right in the middle of things in conference play.

Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament chances take a major blow in loss to No. 16 SMU

SMU guard Nic Moore (11) shoots over Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
(AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
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Nic Moore scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half and added 11 assists as No. 16 SMU knocked off Gonzaga in Moody Coliseum on Saturday night, 69-60.

The Zags got 20 points and 16 boards from Domantas Sabonis, but Kyle Wiltjer scored just four points and shot 2-for-17 from the floor.

It wasn’t pretty.

And it may have been the end of Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament hopes.

Entering Saturday, the Zags had an RPI in the mid-60s, enough to keep them in the bubble conversation but not enough to make them anything more than a team that will be projected to end up on the cut-line.

The issue is a complete lack of quality wins on their résumé. Gonzaga beat UConn in the Bahamas. That’s a borderline top 50 win. They beat Washington, another borderline top 50 win. Beyond that? They swept Pepperdine, beat Tennessee and own a win over Montana. None of those are top 100 wins, and that’s why the SMU game was such a big deal. The Mustangs are a top 25 team. This was a road game. This win was the kind of thing that the Zags could pin at the top of their profile.

But Wiltjer didn’t show up, the Zags had no answer for Moore and they’ll head back to Spokane needing, in all likelihood, to win the WCC’s automatic bid if they want to dance.

POSTERIZED: Cal’s Jaylen Brown has his dunk contest entry

California's Jaylen Brown lays up a shot against Oregon State in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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Cal picked up a big win over Oregon State in Haas Pavilion on Saturday night, and the exclamation point was this emphatic dunk from Jaylen Brown: