According to Synergy Sports Technology, No. 10 San Diego State played zone on just 2.6% of their possessions entering Saturday night.
Do the math, and in a 65 possession game, the Aztecs play, on averaged, less than two possessions were of zone. They’re a man-to-man team, so you can understand why No. 21 New Mexico prepared for what has been a stifling Aztec man-to-man defense this season.
And that’s why one, simple coaching maneuver changed the outcome of Saturday night’s de-facto Mountain West regular season title game. Down 41-25 midway through the second half and completely unable to contain the Lobo front line of Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk, SDSU head coach Steve Fisher threw on an extended, 1-3-1 zone that completely confounded the Lobos.
SDSU would ratchet up their transition game, turning turnovers into layups, and go on a 26-4 run to close out the game, taking home the MWC championship with a 51-48 win.
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The Aztecs’ finishing kick was sensational, and the quality of Fisher’s coaching this season cannot be overstated, but it won’t change the fact that the Lobos were simply pounding SDSU. The Aztecs have some major issues scoring in the half court, and even after they switched up their defenses, SDSU had some trouble getting clean looks at the basket when going up against a set UNM defense.
They got lucky. New Mexico wasn’t expecting that 1-3-1 zone. They didn’t know what to do against it. The element of surprise is what won them this game, but you better believe that every single team that SDSU will play in the next month will be keenly aware that Fisher has that zone in his back pocket. It’s on film now. New Mexico head coach Craig Neal won’t be caught asleep at the wheel again. None of the teams that SDSU faces in the MWC tournament will. Their NCAA tournament opponents will certainly be prepared.
So while this win is great, and the title puts a much-deserved bow on what has been an outstanding season for the Aztecs, it does nothing to change my overlying opinion on this group.
They’re tough defensively, but their inability to create offense in the half court is a major, major concern.