Winston Shepard III’s growth key for No. 5 San Diego State

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Picked to finish fourth in the Mountain West’s preseason poll, No. 5 San Diego State has proven to be one of the nation’s biggest surprises of the 2013-14 season. Steve Fisher’s Aztecs, who are 18-1 on the season with their lone defeat coming against current No. 1 Arizona, own wins over Creighton and No. 6 Kansas and have won 17 in a row.

Obviously point guard Xavier Thames, who at this point is the favorite to win Mountain West Player of the Year, has been the biggest factor with the fifth-year senior leading San Diego State to an overtime win at Utah State last Saturday with 31 points (ten in overtime). But he isn’t the lone contributor, with Tulane transfer Josh Davis and returnees J.J. O’Brien, Winston Shepard III and Skylar Spencer among the valuable pieces in Fisher’s rotation.

Shepard’s development has been especially key, with the player who joined the program as the highest-rated recruit in SDSU history making strides not only statistically speaking but maturity-wise as well. After averaging 5.7 points and 3.5 rebounds per contest as a freshman Shepard’s up to 12.9 points and 5.2 rebounds while also dishing out 2.3 assists per game.

And in a story written by Mark Zeigler of the San Diego Union-Tribune, Shepard admitted that he had some growing up to do after experiencing a freshman campaign that didn’t go as he’d planned.

“It’s hard, you know?” Shepard says, sitting in Viejas Arena after practice earlier this week, reflecting on the freshman season that wasn’t. “When you go to the high school that I went to, play with the players that I played with, always in the spotlight, always on Court 1 at AAU tournaments, it’s a downfall if you don’t have the right mindset. And I don’t know if I had the right mindset last year.

“One thing this game will do if you don’t have the right mindset, it will make you have the right mindset. Or, you’ll have to quit. You learn quickly: Nobody owes you anything.”

In conference play Shepard’s been slightly more productive for San Diego State, averaging 13.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game, and his presence makes the Aztecs a difficult team for opponents to defend. Shepard’s one of the players intent on attacking the paint offensively, and that kind of pressure doesn’t receive the attention that it deserves.

With their athleticism and versatility San Diego State can command the paint on both ends of the floor, and it’s something they’ve been able to do during this 17-game win streak. As for Shepard he’s made good use of the lessons learned last season, with both he and the SDSU program as a whole reaping the rewards.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: A few tournaments are still going on

Justin Jenifer, Charles Jackson
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GAME OF THE DAY: George Washington vs. No. 24 Cincinnati, 1:30 p.m.

Two 6-0 teams clash at the Barclays Center in what could be an important game for NCAA tournament resumes of both teams. The Bearcats picked up their most legitimate win over Nebraska, but the Colonials pose as a more real threat after they beat Virginia at home earlier this season. Cincinnati hasn’t shot the ball well in recent wins, but they’re beating up opponents on the glass and the defense has been solid. George Washington is coming off of a win over Tennessee in which they held off the Volunteers in the second half. The Colonials have lost 20 of their last 23 against ranked opponents, but another win over a top team would look great for them going forward.

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: No. 4 Iowa State vs. Illinois, 6:00 p.m. (CBSSN)

This game is apart of the Emerald Coast Classic in Niceville, Florida as the Illini could desperately use a win after a 3-3 start. Illinois head coach John Groce and his team are feeling the pressure for a big win on a neutral site after falling to North Florida, Providence and Chattanooga earlier in the season. The No. 4 Cyclones easily dispatched Virginia Tech earlier in the event and have found a nice balance on offense with the emergence of senior big man Jameel McKay inside.


  • N0. 2 Maryland has struggled to put away teams early at times this season and they’ll try to change that behavior when they host Cleveland State.
  • Staying in the Big Ten, No. 16 Purdue hosts Lehigh. With a game at Pitt and against New Mexico looming, could this be a trap game for the Boilers?
  • Nebraska and Tennessee take the floor in consolation action at the Barclays Center. The Huskers need someone besides Shavon Shields and Andrew White to step up in the scoring column while Tennessee is getting huge numbers from senior guard Kevin Punter.
  • Two 4-0 teams will meet in Brooklyn as Louisville takes on Saint Louis (7:00 p.m., ESPN3). Neither team has faced a significant test this season and this is the Cardinals’ first game away from home.
  • An intriguing night game to keep an eye on is Belmont traveling to BYU (8:00 p.m.). The Bruins are as well-coached as any team in the country and forward Evan Bradds has been playing great ball to start the season. The Cougars don’t have a high scorer like they did in the past, but Kyle Collinsworth is a triple-double threat every time he steps on the floor and BYU has a lot of weapons around him.
  • UAB and Virginia Tech battle in one of the more intriguing consolation games of the Emerald Coast Classic. Both teams are coming off of disappointing losses but have a shot to make things better on the trip with a solid win on Saturday.


  • Bryant at Georgetown, 11:00 a.m. (FS2)
  • Bucknell at Penn State , 12:00 p.m.
  • Tennessee-Martin vs. Mississippi State, 12:00 p.m. (SEC Network)
  • Ole Miss at Bradley, 1:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • Old Dominion at VCU, 3:00 p.m.
  • Hawaii at Texas Tech, 3:00 p.m.
  • Kent State at Pitt, 3:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • SIU-Edwardsville at Butler, 4:00 p.m.
  • Georgia at Seton Hall, 6:30 p.m.
  • Western Illinois at Creigton, 7:00 p.m.
  • Colorado State vs UTEP, 7:30 p.m.

VIDEO: Kris Dunn wills Providence to win over No. 11 Arizona

Kris Dunn, Elliott Pitts
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Kris Dunn spent the first 35 minutes of Friday night’s game against No. 11 Arizona in foul trouble, splitting his time between sitting on the bench and trying to avoid finding himself, again, on the wrong side the whistle.

With 11 minutes left in the game, and with Dunn yet to find a rhythm, the all-american point guard was whistled for his fourth foul as he battled for a rebound with Arizona’s Mark Tollefsen. Head coach Ed Cooley say his superstar beside his for six game minutes, time enough for Arizona to turn a 49-47 deficit into a 58-54 lead.

There were just over five minutes left when Dunn reentered the second semifinal of the Wooden Legacy, and he proceeded to show everyone in the country why he was named the Preseason Player of the Year. Providence had nine possessions after he reentered the game. Dunn scored 11 points and had a pair of assists on those eight possessions, and if Ben Bentil had stuck a wide-open three — that was setup by Dunn — the Friars would have scored on all nine.

In total, Dunn was responsible for all 15 Friar points in a game-changing, 15-7 run in the final 4:30. It was capped off by this Kobe-in-his-prime-esque game-winner:

The win for Providence is huge for a couple of reasons:

  • Dunn showed a killer instinct against a marquee opponent, something that we didn’t necessarily see out of him a season ago. He wasn’t going to let his team lose, and given that Providence doesn’t have anyone else that can consistently create good shots, they are going to need that from him a lot this year.
  • It makes a statement for the Friars. Arizona is overrated at No. 11 in the country, yes, but going out on national television against an elite program and getting this kind of performance from Dunn is a confidence-booster and a tone-setter. Providence hasn’t been accustomed to winning in recent years. This is a way to set a trend.
  • Ben Bentil continues to play like a star. Dunn had 19 points and eight assists on Friday, but Bentil followed up a 24-point performance in the win over Evansville with 21 critical points on Friday.

This win sets up a matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence on Sunday night, which means that Denzel Valentine and Kris Dunn — the two best players in the country, sorry Ben Simmons — will be going head-to-head.

Oh. Hell. Yes.

Here is all of Kris Dunn’s work in the final 4:30: