GAME NOTES: Winners of all but one of their 12 home dates so far this season, the San Diego State Aztecs try to keep up that pressure in Viejas Arena on Tuesday night, as they host the Wyoming Cowboys in a Mountain West Conference battle.
Expected to be a major player in the MWC again this season, the Aztecs had an impressive non-conference mark before digging in against the rest of the league, and that's when things became difficult for head coach Steve Fisher and his bunch. In action on Saturday, the Aztecs dropped in on UNLV at the Thomas & Mack Center and came up short in a 72-70 setback.
San Diego State has now dropped two straight outings and is 6-5 in conference play, which means the squad is tied with both the Runnin' Rebels and Air Force for third place in the standings.
Similar to the Aztecs, Wyoming also showed quite a bit of promise coming out of the gate before suffering the loss of Luke Martinez and a rash of tough defeats. The team did defeat Fresno State in overtime at home on Saturday, 55-51, its second straight victory and the third in four tries, but still the Cowboys have settled into seventh place in the standings with just four wins in 11 opportunities against league foes.
The Pokes lead the all-time series with SDSU by a count of 38-34, but the Aztecs have managed to claim victory in 21 of the 32 games played in Southern California. The most recent encounter took place last month in Laramie where Wyoming claimed a convincing 58-45 victory.
The Cowboys took some time to warm up in their meeting against Fresno State, but after trailing by double figures at the break the Pokes slowed the pace and held the Bulldogs to just 18 points in the second half, and a scant two points in overtime in order to capture the win. Leonard Washington registered a double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds, while Derrious Gilmore and reserve Nathan Sobey checked in with 12 and 10 points, respectively.
In conference games, the Cowboys have limited opponents to a mere 56.3 ppg, allowing them to shoot only 29.1 percent behind the 3-point line. However, at the same time Wyoming is producing just 54.6 ppg and converting not only a mere 29.9 percent out on the perimeter, but 40.7 percent from the floor overall. Gilmore (13.7 ppg) and Washington (13.5 ppg) combine for almost half the team's points, but Washington could be doing even better if not for his 5- of-37 (.135) showing beyond the arc and 51.2 percent at the free-throw line.
Ahead by as many as 11 points in the first half, the Aztecs should have been on their way to taking out UNLV in Las Vegas over the weekend, but it just wasn't meant to be. Instead, San Diego State wasted a huge effort by JJ O'Brien who not only scored a season-high 15 points, he also recorded a team- best 11 rebounds. Chase Tapley made good on 4-of-8 shots behind the 3-point line as he generated a game-high 22 points, adding six boards and three steals, but again his effort went for naught. Jamaal Franking chipped in 11 points and five steals, but shot only 5-of-15 from the floor.
Playing almost 33 minutes per game, Franklin leads the Aztecs in both scoring and rebounding with averages of 16.9 points and 9.1 rebounds per contest, his 77 assists and 39 steals also tops on the squad, but clearly he cannot continue to put all this pressure on himself and have SDSU win consistently. Tapley has assumed some of the scoring burden with 14.1 ppg, shooting 40.3 percent beyond the arc, but more must be done to free up Franklin with the regular season winding down.
Wyoming will again try to keep the scoring to a minimum, but being at home and having revenge as a motivating factor will go a long way in SDSU playing well enough to come up with the win.
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