3 thoughts: SDSU 85, San Jose State 54 … Johnson’s Dunk, Arop’s return, and an uphill battle at the top
Three thoughts on San Diego State’s 85:54 win over San Jose State on Monday night at Viejas Arena:
1. The dunk
Former Aztec coach Steve Fisher was watching the game on TV at his North County home, as he did this season. In the middle of the second half, he saw the second striker Keshad Johnson fly down the alley during the break, emphatically overtaking two Spartans.
“That was impressive,” said Fisher. “I smiled when I saw it.”
He did for the entertainment value of Johnson’s mesmerizing athleticism. And he did for what most people probably didn’t notice about the game that a 4 man bounced the ball back on the opposite end and trickled down the length of the floor before the highlight was done.
One of the defining characteristics of a Fisher, and now Brian Dutcher, team is a willingness to break convention – ricochet, leak, fill the lane – and allow their greats to run the break themselves. You are recruiting it. You teach it. You practice it. You encourage it.
“I think the real confidence came in Michigan when we had all the really good big players who could,” said Fisher, whose Fab Five teams had a 6-foot-8-point guard in the early 1990s and helped usher in an era of poseless basketball. “It’s an added bonus when you can, a great luxury. You have to work on it. You can’t just say, “Anyone who wants to just dribble it whenever they want.” But you don’t want them to be afraid to do it. “
At SDSU, he has had long, athletic and versatile strikers like Mohamed Abukar, Marcus Slaughter, Lorrenzo Wade, Billy White, Winston Shepard, Malik Pope and of course Kawhi Leonard. Last year Yanni Wetzell still dripped behind his back a few times during the break.
There are tactical advantages. Sometimes the point guard is undercover or out of position for an outlet pass, and waiting for it to leave gives the defense valuable time to organize. A tall man with longer legs can cover the court with fewer dribbles (Johnson needed six on Monday night) and scan the floor more easily with his size. And then there’s the shock of a 6-8 stallion galloping towards them with the ball – the moment you have it, no, you have it.
There is also a recruiting component. No doubt the future prospects will see clips of Johnson’s Dunk coast to coast just like he saw White do the same when the Aztecs courted him.
“Any tall man wants to be a guard and say, ‘I can dribble, I can pass, I can shoot, I can do anything,” said Fisher. “They want to recruit versatility and athleticism. If you’ve got that with the size, then you have a special kind of player and team. “
2. The return
Aguek Arop hobbled for most of his first year of life with a painful hip impact that required off-season surgery and six months of rehab. He missed 10 games in his sophomore year after dislocating a shoulder and then dislocating it again.
He missed one game this season with a cut on the hand, another game (and was limited to two others) with a stomach virus, then two more with dizziness.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget how valuable it is.
Its greatest attribute: the arbitrary, unquantifiable unit of energy.
The 6-foot-6 junior with the 7-1 wingspan and relentless engine entered a tie at 11:39 in the first half. The state of San Jose went under the basket of the SDSU. Arop stole the pass and hit.
The next time he had possession, he perfectly hit a baseline intersection behind the Spartans 1-3-1 zone for another easy basket. The next time he had possession, he fouled and went to the line. Two minutes later, he followed Lamont Butler on a quick break, grabbed Butler’s missed line-up and scored.
On the next trip, he had two offensive rebounds that resulted in two free throws from Jordan Schakel, who started a 20-5 run to close in half.
“I definitely didn’t go through what he went through,” said Schakel. “But it only shows what kind of guy he is, never someone who pouts, never someone who feels sorry for himself. To play as well as tonight, I think he felt good. I think he feels a lot better. It’s nice to see. “
Or look at it this way: Arop didn’t play in the loss to Colorado State and had two, two, and zero points in the other three losses.
In his last three games, he’s made 10 out of 12 shots and scored 10 offensive rebounds – and the Aztecs have won 37, 32 and 31.
“This program builds on that and does the little things,” said Schakel. “You don’t win without the little things. It doesn’t matter how many points you get, you have to do everything right. It’s just contagious when everyone plays like that. When AG came into play it was (a tie) and he got Big Theft. They say he only got five rebounds, but honestly it felt like 20. “
3. The ranking list
A year ago, the Aztecs won the regular season title in Mountain West with four games. Not this year.
In mid-January, they were in fifth place 3-3 as they faced two 8-0 teams in Boise and Utah. The hardest part of the schedule was behind them, but they also needed help getting back into the competition.
And they got it. Boise State and Colorado State are both tied to SDSU (8-3) in the losing column, and first Utah State (11-2) still has streaks against second Boise State and fifth Nevada.
If the Aggies win, they are the absolute champion and number 1 in the conference tournament. But if Colorado State, Boise State, and the Aztecs catch up on missed games and lead the table, they are all guaranteed at least part of the title.
The joker is of course who makes what. SDSU has missed four games so far, Utah State three, Colorado State two, and Boise State one.
Here’s a look at where they stand and what’s left:
Utah State (11-2): After this week’s series against Wyoming was postponed, they face tough streaks in Boise State and at home against Nevada. It will be difficult to win.
Colorado State (11-3): Two games against New Mexico this week have been postponed, but the Rams still have the easiest remaining schedule of the top 4, with streaks in Nevada and 10th in the Air Force.
Boise State (10-3): After beating the bottom half of the conference 9-0, the Broncos have been 1-3 since then. And they still have UNLV and Utah State at home, followed by SDSU on the way and a possible make-up game against Fresno State.
SDSU (8-3): Even if the Aztecs win the five remaining games on their schedule – San Jose State on Wednesday, two at Fresno State, two against Boise State – and reach 13-3, the problem still remains that four missed street games against UNLV and New Mexico. The former could be played in early March. The latter have been officially canceled and can be considered lapsed to make up for the overall standings.
“Obviously everyone still has tough games,” said Dutcher. “Anyone of them who plays at a high level can keep up every night. I think it will be until last weekend. “