At the end of January, San Diego State traveled to Logan to face Utah State, a newcomer to the Mountain West Conference. Stew Morrill’s squad introduced the Aztecs to their style of play, one that had helped USU notch eight consecutive 20-plus win seasons in WAC. The Aggies converted 54 percent of their two-point field goals, and made a whopping 50 percent of their threes, but San Diego State somehow managed to win.
Fast-forward to tonight’s SDSU-USU rematch, and there was little to suggest the Aggies could replicate that late January feat. Steve Fisher’s team committed seven turnovers in the second half, had Xavier Thames make just one field goal, underwent two scoring droughts of various lengths, posted an efficiency rating of only one point per possession, and still won by 15 points. The Aztecs are arguably the most athletic team in the conference; there isn’t another team that can match the lineups Fisher can field. When that athleticism is combined with the defensive tutelage of Fisher and assistant coach Justin Huston, the Aztecs justify their top ten poll ranking.
San Diego State held USU to .74 PPP, which is the third time the team has held a conference opponent below .80 PPP this season. Consider the squad’s defensive effort on Preston Medlin, Utah State’s most efficient offensive option: Medlin made just one of his seven field goal attempts, and was hounded whenever he touched the ball or came within it’s vicinity. SDSU can switch each of their five positions, a skill the team showcased in tonight’s win; whether it was Josh Davis switching onto a USU guard, or Thames switching three times before forcing Medlin into a turnover, the Aggies seemed surprised when they had an unimpeded look at the basket.
What is also fascinating about SDSU’s defensive prowess is their lack of fouls. Utah State attempted just eight free throws tonight, and because the Aztecs are so defensively balanced, a player is hardly ever caught out of position and compelled to reach or swat at an opponent to make a play. The Aztecs know where their help is on the court and how to steer the offensive player in that direction to force a bad shot.