Notebook: Aztecs’ defense comes in clutch against Colorado State

by Jacob Sisneros, Assistant News Editor

Defense has been the bread and butter of head coach Steve Fisher’s teams at San Diego State.

It’s the reason the team has won or shared the regular-season Mountain West title in four of the last five seasons.

It’s the reason the Aztecs remain the only undefeated team in conference play this season at 10-0.

And it’s the reason they won Tuesday night.

SDSU forgot the butter in the first half of a wild 69-67 win against Colorado State, but made a run to the grocery store for a refill to finish the game.

With 8:16 left in the first half Colorado State enjoyed a 10-point lead while shooting 10 for 26 from the floor and 5 for 10 from 3-point range.

The Rams scored just three more points in the remainder of the half, all on free throws, as the Aztecs went on a 17-3 run and reclaimed the lead 32-28 heading into halftime.

“They shot some that you want them to take that went in, but they had some others that they couldn’t feel our breath,” head coach Steve Fisher said. “When you let shooters get in a rhythm and make a couple that’s what happens.”

Colorado State made 62.5 percent of its 3s in the second half, but took only eight compared to 15 in the first half.

The defense held strong when it needed to and didn’t allow a field goal over the last 2:51 of the game.

SDSU came into the game holding conference opponents to 36.7-percent shooting from the field and 27.7-percent from 3-point range since Jan. 26, 2013.

The team is now 28-1 at home against MW teams in that three-year stretch.

At 43.5 percent, the Rams had the highest 3-point field goal percentage of a losing team against the Aztecs this season.

The last team to shoot over 40 percent from 3 against the Aztecs was Kansas University, which shot 42 percent and beat the Aztecs 70-57 on Dec. 22, 2015.

Coming into the game the Aztecs had allowed only two opponents to shoot over 40 percent from 3-point range this season, both losses. The other loss came in a 52-45 upset against Grand Canyon University.

The streak when leading with 5:00 to go remained intact as the Aztecs extended it to 160 games.

One-two punch

Sophomore guard Trey Kell had another strong offensive performance after being named the MW Player of the Week.

He finished with 19 points on 5-of-12 shooting and was 7 of 10 from the free-throw line to continue his streak of 10 consecutive games scoring double digits.

“We know we’re going to get everyone’s best shot,” Kell said. “We know it’s going to happen so we make sure that we come out with our best too.”

He also scored seven points in the last 5:20 of the game.

Hemsley had the go-ahead layup and free throw in the final 1:07. He finished with 16 points on 7-of 13-shooting with five assists and three rebounds.

Hemsley has scored double-digits in 12 of his last 14 games.

Gaining speed

Junior forward Matt Shrigley played 11 minutes in his fourth game back from his ACL injury.

He was 0 for 4 from long range, but he pulled down four rebounds and was part of the defensive unit that held the Rams to three points in the last 8:16 of the first half.

Sophomore forward Malik Pope played 23 minutes and scored an efficient 10 points on 3-of-4 shooting and 4 of 4 from the free-throw line. He also came up with a career-high-tying three blocks, including one with 1:07 left in the game.

“Malik was good in areas he hasn’t been good and that’s moving his feet, guarding, staying in front of a guy, changing the arc of some shots (and) blocking some shots,” Fisher said. “He made huge plays for us defensively in addition to some of the late baskets that he got for us.”

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