Men’s basketball to face BYU day before first meeting 80 years ago

Senior+forward+Matt+Mitchell+follows+through+on+a+3-point+attempt+during+the+Aztecs%E2%80%99+73-58+win+over+UCLA+on+Nov.+25+at+Viejas+Arena.

Courtesy of Derrick Tuskan, SDSU Athletics

Senior forward Matt Mitchell follows through on a 3-point attempt during the Aztecs’ 73-58 win over UCLA on Nov. 25 at Viejas Arena.

by Breven Honda, Senior Staff Writer

No. 18/20 San Diego State men’s basketball and Brigham Young University have a long history that lasts decades upon decades. 

From Tony Gwynn facing Danny Ainge in the late 1970s and early 80s to Kawhi Leonard squaring up against Jimmer Fredette in 2011, the Aztec-Cougar rivalry began when these two teams met for the first time on Dec. 19, 1940 — almost eight decades to the day the 74th meeting will take place on Friday at Viejas Arena. 

Although the Cougars have won 48 of the 73 games played, SDSU has won the past four meetings, going all the way back to Leornard and Fredette’s final game against each other in the Mountain West Conference Tournament championship game. That was when the then-No. 7 Aztecs took down the then-No. 8 Cougars, 72-54 for the first time in three tries that season.

Six years ago, the then-No. 15 Aztecs defeated the Cougars in Paradise in the first round of the Maui Invitational, 92-86, in double-overtime fashion when Aqeel Quinn had a team-high 22 points. 

SDSU and BYU renewed the rivalry in 2018 scheduling a home-and-home for the next two seasons that saw then-sophomore Matt Mitchell put up 22 points in a 90-81 victory, giving the Aztecs its first home win against the Cougars in 10 years. 

Last season, the two teams met in Provo, Utah to complete the home-and-home and then-junior Jordan Schakel shot 5-of-7 from three-point range, adding a then-career-high 19 points, en route to SDSU defeating BYU 76-71 to give the Aztecs its first win at the Marriott Center in 14 years and its fourth overall win in Provo. 

Now, Mitchell and Schakel are seniors and are hoping to make it five straight wins against BYU. 

Schakel, who received MWC Player of the Week honors after posting a career-high 25 points against Arizona State last week, said going from watching the rivalry to playing in the rivalry was exhilarating. 

“I grew up watching SDSU and BYU and the rivalry,” Schakel said. “Two storied basketball programs, two great fan bases. I played them (at Viejas Arena) and also at BYU. I got to experience everything that that rivalry has to offer. For this year, for the final installment of my career, I’m just excited to play them again. Always a great team, well-coached, hard-working and it will be a good game.”   

Here are two keys to Friday’s game.

1. Get two, get two more

SDSU (5-0) has two wins against the Pac-12 Conference in then-No. 22 UCLA (5-1) and then-No. 23 ASU (4-2) and are one of four teams in the country to have two wins against AP top-25 teams. 

Now, the Aztecs face their second and third West Coast Conference teams on their schedule in BYU (6-2) and St. Mary’s. Both games can elevate the Scarlet and Black’s west coast-dominated resume before MWC play officially begins for SDSU on Jan. 2.  

BYU is coming off a Pac-12 win of their own against Utah, who had three scorers in double figures and out-rebounded the Utes 44-28. 

St. Mary’s has won seven consecutive games after losing their season opener against Memphis in the Bad Boy Mowers Classic. The Gaels play Colorado State at home on Dec. 19 before facing the Aztecs two days later at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.  

2. SDSU to continue to rely on dominant cornerstone

The key to the Aztecs’ five victories has been their defense. 

SDSU is averaging 9.4 steals a game and has fueled the Scarlet and Black to create big runs offensively. In the 65-60 comeback win over Pepperdine, creating turnovers was key as the Scarlet and Black forced 25 turnovers that led to 26 SDSU points.  

In addition, the Aztecs will need to continue to rebound, as junior forward Nathan Mensah put up 17 points and 15 rebounds against the Sun Devils.  

In the four games SDSU had won the rebounding advantage, they were 4-0. 

Head coach Brian Dutcher said no matchup is the same, especially when it comes to preparing for a game defensively. 

“Every game presents a different challenge and BYU will present a different challenge for us,”  Dutcher said. “They run their offense extremely well for this early in the year. They are extremely big inside. It will be a day or two for us to come together as far as a game plan, getting ready for Friday.” 

Assistant Sports Editor Luis Lopez contributed reporting to this story.

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