Aztecs stifle Utes’ offense in Hall of Fame Classic, advance to 12-0 behind Flynn’s MVP performance

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Aztecs stifle Utes’ offense in Hall of Fame Classic, advance to 12-0 behind Flynn’s MVP performance

Junior guard Malachi Flynn had 16 points, 3 rebounds and 8 assists and was named the Basketball Hall of Fame Classic MVP.

Junior guard Malachi Flynn had 16 points, 3 rebounds and 8 assists and was named the Basketball Hall of Fame Classic MVP.

Sam Mayo

Junior guard Malachi Flynn had 16 points, 3 rebounds and 8 assists and was named the Basketball Hall of Fame Classic MVP.

Sam Mayo

Sam Mayo

Junior guard Malachi Flynn had 16 points, 3 rebounds and 8 assists and was named the Basketball Hall of Fame Classic MVP.

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LOS ANGELES — Entering Saturday, No. 20 San Diego State men’s basketball was slated to play Utah — a team that upset No. 6 Kentucky just three days earlier.

But the Aztecs didn’t budge, as they pulled away with 51 second-half points to claim a 80-52 win over the Utes (9-3) on Dec. 21 at Staples Center in the Basketball Hall of Fame Classic.

Junior guard Malachi Flynn led the Aztecs (12-0, 2-0 Mountain West Conference) with 16 points, three rebounds, eight assists, two steals and a block. Following his performance, Flynn was named the MVP of the competition.

Here are three observations from the game.

Wetzell and Mensah impose their will

After scoring 46 points in the paint in Wednesday’s game against San Diego Christian, the Aztecs replicated a similar showing on Saturday with 42 points in the post.

Only this time did the Aztecs allow 10 points in the paint — the lowest amount the Aztecs have surrendered all season long.

Senior forward Yanni Wetzell and sophomore forward Nathan Mensah bullied their way to score 14 points each, and the two bigs combined for 11 rebounds.

Wetzell said SDSU poses offensive threats at every position, allowing Mensah and him to get more chances near the basket.

“I’ve got to give credit to the guards,” Wetzell said. “That’s often why we’re so open in the paint because we’ve got such great shooters. They can’t help too much, they can’t double too much.”

SDSU led the rebounding total 37-29, making Saturday the 10th time the Aztecs have out-rebounded an opponent in 12 games.

The Aztecs were also able to take advantage of 12 offensive rebounds by scoring 13 second-chance points compared to the Utes’ eight.

Head coach Brian Dutcher credited the Aztecs’ durability with the bigs’ success.

“We have a versatile group,” Dutcher said. “We have a really good inside-out attack, so we’re not one-dimensional.”

Hot, cold then hot again

The Aztecs began the contest shooting 3-for-4 from perimeter. With a 39.8% clip from deep entering the game, everything seemed normal in terms of the Aztecs’ shooting.

Then, SDSU lost its touch and went on a 0-for-10 cold streak from beyond the arc.

That 0-for-10 span lasted for 20:29 — over a whole half in game time.

After that span, though, the Aztecs found their groove again.

SDSU went 6-for-8 from the 3-point line for the last 13:14 of the game, raising the Aztecs’ 3-point field goal percentage back up to 40.9%.

Flynn, who hit two out of his four 3-point attempts, said the missed attempts didn’t hinder them from continuing to shoot from deep.

“We were getting good looks when we were 0-and-10,” Flynn said. “We missed a couple easy ones. We’re going to keep shooting, we’ve got a lot of shooters on the floor. Once one person gets hot, it’s kind of contagious for us, and it just kept going in.”

Junior guard Jordan Schakel and sophomore guard Adam Seiko also made two 3-pointers each.

Defense prevails

According to Dutcher, Utah sophomore forward Timmy Allen was the biggest threat facing the Aztecs on Saturday.

“We knew Timmy Allen was going to be the nightmare matchup because he can really attack to the basket off the dribble and he’s very good in the backdown game,” Dutcher said. “We know he’s a high-level player, so we mixed bodies on him everywhere from Malachi to Yanni to everybody on the team.”

That strategy on defense paid off, as SDSU held Allen to 11 points in the first half.

Allen was virtually the only bright spot for Utah in the first half, as the Aztecs locked down the Utes to 19 points on 22.7% shooting.

Sophomore forward Aguek Arop, one of the Aztecs’ best defenders, would have been a go-to option to cover sophomore forward Timmy Allen — the Pac-12’s leading scorer, with 21 points per game.

Flynn, however, credited the Aztecs’ persistence on defense in containing players like Allen.

“I think we’re really tough,” Flynn said. “Once the coaches put that into us too, it’s just a collectively tough group… We just have that mentality.”

Before Saturday, Allen was one-for-11 on 3-point shots.

But Allen ended up scoring the most 3-pointers for the Utes with three. The rest of the team managed to make four.

The Utes ended up finishing the game with 52 points scored – their lowest total of the season by eight points.

Dutcher said his team’s grittiness on the defensive end reflects the Aztecs’ true identity.

“We’re very talented offensively, but the character on this team is reflected at the defensive end,” Dutcher said. “We’ll find a way to score enough points to win if our defense and rebounding stay where it is, and they made the next step defensively.”

The Aztecs have another week off to prepare for their final game of 2019, a matchup against Cal Poly, on Dec. 28.

Kyle Betz is a junior studying journalism. Follow him on Twitter @KyleBBetz.

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