Matt Mitchell went for 15 points while Jalen McDaniels added 15 points and 10 boards off the bench as San Diego State landed their first marquee win of the season, knocking off No. 12 Gonzaga in Viejas Arena, 72-70.
SDSU led the entire way. They jumped out to an 11-0 lead before the Zags even woke up and held onto that lead until the final buzzer. The Zags never even tied the game.
It was the first time all season that Brian Dutcher’s team looked like a group that is capable of winning the Mountain West and earning a trip to the NCAA tournament, but there may be something to that. The Aztecs were at full strength on Thursday night for the first time in nearly a month.
That matters because there are a couple of ugly losses on SDSU’s résumé. They got dropped by Washington State in the title game of the Wooden Legacy. They got beaten at home by a Cal team that already lost to UC Riverside, Chaminade and Central Arkansas by 27 points before digging themselves a 20-point halftime hole (at the tight of this posting) against Portland State at home.
But those losses came when SDSU was dealing with some injuries. The spin is this: they dropped those games because they weren’t at full strength, and when they are at full strength, they can do things like beat Gonzaga. I’m not sure I totally buy it, but that’s the pitch they’re going to have to make if they want an at-large bid, particularly given the fact that there are only eight more games on their schedule against top 100 teams, according to KenPom. The only top 50 team in the Mountain West is Nevada. For comparison’s sake, while SDSU sullies their profile with games against San Jose State, Air Force, New Mexico and Colorado State, bubble teams in the Big 12 won’t play a single league game against a program outside KenPom’s top 75; Iowa State is the only team in the league outside the top 50.
This win mattered for SDSU.
But … do we really know if Gonzaga is all that good?
They’ve now lost to Villanova (handily), Florida (who isn’t that good in a double-overtime thriller) and SDSU (a game they never led). They’ve beaten Creighton (at home) and Texas (who may not be any good, either). And like SDSU, Gonzaga is gearing up for league play in a conference where quality wins are at even more of a premium; BYU and Saint Mary’s are the only other top 100 teams in the WCC.
That isn’t the only issue for SDSU.
This group of players has never proven themselves to be consistent, and trusting them to build a résumé in league play requires consistency.
One thing to note, however, is that Jalen McDaniels has now scored double-figures in three games this season, and all three games were SDSU wins over top 100 opponents.
Maybe that right there is the key to this team.