Mountain West Tournament: Tough afternoons for Xavier Thames, Winston Shepard III spell doom for No. 8 San Diego State

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No. 8 San Diego State isn’t a team that will light up the scoreboard offensively. With Xavier Thames and Winston Shepard III doing their best to probe the lane against the opposition, the Aztecs have been at their best when those two are on their game when it comes to both scoring an distributing the basketball to the supporting cast.

That wasn’t the case in Saturday’s Mountain West championship game, with Thames making just six of his 16 field goal attempts and Shepard shooting 4-for-15. With New Mexico struggling against the Aztecs’ 1-2-1-1 full court press, those off nights prohibited the Aztecs from taking advantage and gaining separation. The end result: a 64-58 Lobo victory, giving the program its third consecutive Mountain West tournament title.

RELATED: Role players step forward when needed for No. 20 New Mexico

If anything the pressure allowed the Aztecs to continue to stand toe-to-toe with New Mexico, as they scored 21 points off of 15 Lobo turnovers. But with Thames, who committed his fourth foul with 11:03 remaining, struggling offensively San Diego State led by no more than three points in the second half. Once New Mexico calmed down they were able to get better shots, turning the tables with Kendall Williams’ three-pointer with 26 seconds remaining being the final nail in the coffin.

It wasn’t all negative for the Aztecs, especially when it comes to the play of Dwayne Polee II. Polee scored 11 of his 14 points in the second half, and his three days in Las Vegas is a key development for the Aztecs moving forward. Polee averaged 13.7 points and 3.7 rebounds per game, giving San Diego State some needed help on both ends of the floor.

It’s no secret that Thames and Shepard will be the focal points offensively, and their struggles on Saturday contributed to the Aztecs’ falling short of their goal. But if they can continue to get solid contributions from a more confident Polee, that will bode well for the Aztecs in the NCAA tournament.

This didn’t do the Aztecs much good Saturday afternoon, with New Mexico limiting San Diego State’s two best offensive options. The supplementary pieces are important, but if San Diego State is to make a run deep into the NCAA tournament they’ll need Thames and Shepard to be at their best.

Louisville backcourt struggles in first scrimmage

Quentin Snider, Jerian Grant
Associated Press
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While a few teams did manage to hold special events for the official start of practice this weekend, most simply went about their business with drills and conditioning. One team that was the exception to all of this was Louisville, which held the first of its two intersquad scrimmages on Saturday. The Cardinals had a head start of sorts on the season, as they played six exhibition games in Puerto Rico this summer.

One hope heading into Saturday’s scrimmage was that guards Trey Lewis and Quentin Snider would have better chemistry than they did in Puerto Rico. But according to Jeff Greer of the Louisville Courier-Journal, that remains a work in progress for the Cleveland State transfer (Lewis) and rising sophomore (Snider).

They struggled in Puerto Rico, and they struggled again in Saturday’s Red-White scrimmage, the first public intrasquad practice since August. They played one half of the game together, paired with the presumed starting lineup with Mangok Mathiang out with an eye injury, a group that also included Damion Lee, Jaylen Johnson and Chinanu Onuaku.

That team lost the first half by 13 points to a younger group of Louisville players, and Lewis and Snider combined for eight points on 3-of-12 shooting, five turnovers, five steals, four assists and three rebounds.

“I thought (Snider) and (Lewis) did not play well together,” U of L coach Rick Pitino said. “They’ve got to get used to that. Neither guy made other guys better. That’s what they need to learn to do.”

As Greer also noted in his story the Cardinals have in recent years employed backcourt tandems in which both guards are capable of making plays for themselves and others. On the 2013 national champion team Peyton Siva and Russ Smith led the way, with Smith being joined by Terry Rozier or Chris Jones the following season and Rozier/Jones being the grouping last season before the latter was dismissed from the team.

Once Jones was dismissed Snider saw more time on the court, and his development was one of the keys for a Louisville team that fell one win short of the Final Four. Louisville needs him to take another step forward heading into the 2015-16 season, because even with Lewis’ experience at the Division I level Snider has more experience playing in Pitino’s system.

But while Saturday’s scrimmage didn’t go as well as anyone involved hoped, there’s still plenty of time for Louisville to work out the kinks before they open the season November 13 against Samford.

Knee injury sidelines Memphis assistant

Toronto Raptors vs Charlotte Hornets
Associated Press
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With practices beginning this weekend, not only are players looking to avoid the injury bug but their coaches are as well. And in the case of Memphis, the Tigers won’t have one of their assistants on the court for a little while due to a knee injury.

Assistant coach Damon Stoudamire, who returned to Josh Pastner’s staff this summer after a two-year stint at Arizona, suffered the injury during a recent workout according to L. Jason Smith of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. And Stoudamire will require surgery, which will put him on the shelf for a little bit.

“He was working out himself and I think he thought he was in his rookie year,” Pastner said. “We think he’s got a torn meniscus, which will require surgery and put him out for a couple of days.”

Stoudamire isn’t the only assistant coach working through pain either. Syracuse’s Mike Hopkins, who is also Jim Boeheim’s heir apparent as head coach, suffered a neck injury body surfing during a family vacation last month. Hopkins spent some time in a neck brace while putting players through workouts as a result of the injury.

As for the Tigers, they’ll have a mixture of experience on the perimeter and youth in the front court as they look to get back to the NCAA tournament after missing out last season. Among the newcomers are talented forwards Dedric and K.J. Lawson, with experienced guards such as Kedren Johnson, Trahson Burrell and Ricky Tarrant (grad transfer from Alabama) expected to be key contributors on the perimeter.