San Diego State’s loss at Wyoming earlier this week is nothing to be ashamed of. That’s a tough game for anyone to have on their schedule. Wyoming has a top 20 defense and an offense that nets good shots thanks to lots of player movement – something many college college coaches struggle to promote. I start with that because Aztec fans shouldn’t be angered by anyone wishing to press shame upon the Aztecs for losing this specific conference game to an unranked opponent. Wyoming is a good team and they’ve got a big time home court advantage, something SDSU knows a little something about.
If you worried, you might point to another poor shooting performance. Once again, part of that was caused by Wyoming. They’re a solid defensive team. There’s no reason to worry about the team’s offense at all after that one because Xavier Thames has earned a free pass for that off night he had (3-16 FG). No great college player in America is perfect. Dwayne Polee, J.J. O’Brien, and Winston Shepard all played well offensively. It would have been nice for Shepard and O’Brien especially to have attacked the basket more, but if you call for that, you’re going to have to take shots away from Thames, which nobody wants to do.
Charting every shot attempt in this game from the Aztecs encouraged me to continue my support of this team’s offense as analysts and commentators continue to cast doubt the Aztecs’ way. The shooting percentages aren’t always hovering at 50%, but this team fights for good looks. They’re always willing to grind out a possessions if that means they’ll get a touch in the paint. And that wears on opposing teams. That’s why we see the Aztecs often go on runs late in games. That’s why they finish so well. They’ve been going at their opponents hard all game long. That inevitably takes its toll on even the toughest teams either by means of foul trouble – as we saw against Arizona – or lapses and breakdowns that lead to easy buckets.
Winston Shepard really has been treated unfairly in his second year at SDSU. He’s constantly under the microscope for anything from shot selection to body language basically for not being Xavier Thames. Shepard deserved the negative attention last season for his behavior, but he has grown up since then. And to continue to berate him with complaints is just silly. Fans need to wake up a bit because this is a future NBA player that we are seeing develop before our eyes. Some people don’t like pull up jumpers from him, but you know what? Every shot can’t be a dunk. This almost isn’t even about basketball with him anymore.
A pull up jump shot 15 feet and in is a good shot for Winston. His ability to elevate makes those shots untouchable. He’s just got to continue to have the confidence to take those when they are there. And don’t let the wiry frame fool you. He’s very physical when he attacks the rim and hits the glass. For a home game like this one coming up against Air Force, fans should use their influence for good. That same resounding love and support shown to Josh Davis at one point this season after air balling his first of two free throws helped him sink the second with confidence. That same attitude could encourage Shepard to be the player that he is without feeling any need to hold himself back.
Well, what about the defense? Wyoming’s hot night was aided by their advantage at altitude as everyone has noted, but also their highly effective motion offense. Derek Cooke, Jr. had some big easy buckets for the Cowboys, but two of those were a result plain confusion by the Aztecs. With five Wyoming players on the move, some switches throughout the night got assumed before they were necessary, leading to a player finding an easy path to the basket.
They also took advantage of the one guy (Skylar Spencer) that doesn’t switch often for the Aztecs. A shooter able to fly around a pick from the guy Spencer is guarding will have some room to get a shot off if the screen is solid. But pin down screens are nothing unique to basketball. They work at every level. Those guys have to just fight through the screen to close out quicker. And the Aztecs are very good at doing so.
Playing in that environment the Aztecs saw on Wednesday against a team built like Wyoming is far more unique than ordinary. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I’m sure the Aztecs will move forward almost looking upon the experience as a blessing. It’t important the Aztecs get truly challenged in conference play, but we definitely don’t want to take a loss to New Mexico or UNLV. So, what about a loss at Wyoming? Eh, the team will be fine. If they can win out from here, it wouldn’t even blemish the resume.