Aztecs win ugly versus Mavericks

Lamont+Butler+%28left%29+defends+against+David+Azore+%28right%29+in+SDSUs+68-62+win+over+UT+Arlington.

Jason Freund

Lamont Butler (left) defends against David Azore (right) in SDSU’s 68-62 win over UT Arlington.

by Justin Cox, Staff Writer

Coming into Saturday night’s men’s basketball game against the University of Texas-Arlington (1-3), the San Diego State Aztecs (3-1) had played the third toughest schedule among the top 65 teams according to the Sagarin rankings. With UTA’s only win coming against Division III opponent Mary Hardin-Baylor and coming off a 64-36 loss to North Texas, Saturday was an opportunity for SDSU to capture an easy win — something that has eluded them this season after three close games to start the year. 

Saturday’s 68-62 Aztec win at Viejas Arena proved to be anything but that as SDSU’s defense had to shoulder the load once again.

The Aztecs came out of the gates sloppy and disorganized. UTA’s length and defensive aggression led to six Aztec turnovers in their first 12 offensive possessions as UTA opened with a 9-4 lead after the first five minutes of action. After the game, head coach Brian Dutcher said he noticed his team’s sloppiness even before tipoff.

“We did everything we had to do to try and get them ready to play tonight,” Dutcher said. “It’s the first time in a long time we’ve actually played live because I didn’t think they were engaged enough and mentally ready to play, and that’s on me.”

While UTA’s defense wreaked havoc early, their aggressive play came back to bite them as they recorded a total of 26 fouls throughout the game. These fouls led to a whopping 34 free throw attempts and 30 makes for the Aztecs. Overall, the Scarlet and Black finished with a plus-23 advantage in free throws attempted. The Aztecs entered the game shooting a porous 60 percent from the charity stripe, so Saturday’s shooting was encouraging for the Aztecs going forward.

“For years, [free throw attempts] is one of the stats that people take the least interest in,” Dutcher said. “That’s one thing we’ve done every game this year is get to the line. When you make them, that’s what wins games.”

Despite improvements in both free throw percentage (88 percent) and three-point percentage (40 percent on 6-15 shooting), SDSU still shot a mere 34.8 percent on shots inside the three-point line.

The Aztecs — who lost both of their primary scorers from last year — have simply struggled to put the ball in the basket. Senior Matt Bradley was expected to carry much of the scoring load but has been unable to find his shot thus far in the young season as he entered the game shooting 43% from the field and 0-6 on threes. Against UTA, Bradley was able to get two threes to fall and was a perfect 7-7 at the free-throw line to pace the Aztecs with 15 points.

“This is new to me,” Bradley said when discussing his early-season slump. “I usually don’t struggle shooting threes. Hitting two tonight definitely helped but I think once I start knocking them down it’s going to help the team in general, but I’m just keeping my confidence.”

Speaking of confidence, the Aztecs came into the game as a 19-point favorite, but with 8:20 left, UTA had just gone on a 9-0 run of their own and could smell a potential upset.

“Coach Dutcher really got on us,” Bradley said when noting the 9-0 UTA run. “Players started holding other people accountable and everybody picked up their intensity.”  

The Aztecs immediately went on a 9-0 run of their own capped by a Bradley corner three, his second of the night as “The Show” erupted. From there, the Aztecs’ defense stifled any attempts at a Maverick comeback to send the Aztec fans home happy despite some elevated heart rates. 

It certainly wasn’t pretty, but an ugly win and a dominating win have one thing in common: it still goes down in the win column of the standings.  

“I always say it’s better to learn in a win than a defeat and that’s what we did,” Dutcher said.

The Aztecs will hope to put some of the lessons from Saturday’s game into practice this week as they take on Georgetown in the Paycom Wooden Legacy tournament at 9 p.m. Thanksgiving night.

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