Doug Gottlieb said all that really needed to be said after the Aztecs took care of business in Fresno with a 15 point victory. He went straight to Aqeel Quinn’s performance off the bench, and pointed out to the national audience that the Aztecs have 3 guys coming off that bench that can put the ball in the hoop for them from the outside. X. Thames plus a whole bunch of length and rebounding still might be the only things coming to mind for some with that starting unit, but getting one strong performance from one of those guys off the bench is all this team needs to get things chugging along on offense. Gottlieb is all in on this team if they can get somebody to come in and knock down some shots. Just a few shots from those guys, and everybody sees how good this team is. And that is very encouraging to all Aztec fans.
And even more encouraging – we’ve seen this from more than just one guy. Shrigley has caught fire several times this season and Polee has not only been effective, but also very timely with some of the season’s biggest buckets. But there was yet another encouraging sign for the Aztecs. D’Erryl Williams got to see some early action. I was curious to see what would happen as Fresno State had switched to a 2-3 zone. But Williams does two things incredibly well already that explain exactly why he was in there. He penetrates but keeps his dribble alive until he absolutely knows where he wants to go with the ball. Also, he’s not hesitant. So while he might not always be looking for his own shot, that confidence he displays when making a decision on the court is outstanding. Very good things to come from #11.
But back to Quinn, specifically. The fact that he worked himself into the rotation is so, so impressive that it cannot be mentioned enough. He earned a scholarship for this season, but his work didn’t end once he got it. Take a look at AQ’s game log. Does anything stand out? Yup, I see it too. Quinn didn’t play against Arizona, Creighton, Marquette, or San Diego! How did he respond? Quinn scored 40 points in the three filler games on the schedule before the conference opener. This team desperately needed the guys off the bench to prove they could put the ball in the basket, and Quinn did just that.
Just days later, he added 8 points in 12 minutes off the bench in that tight win at Fort Collins. He earned enough respect from the coaching staff to find himself on the floor for 15 minutes against Kansas, scoring 3 points and grabbing 6 boards. Three days later in a 3 point home win against Boise State, Quinn nailed three big treys. Suddenly, this redshirt who got a scholarship without the fans knowing who he really was yet had let the conference and the country know who he was. And he’s done a little bit of everything. He was a part of the lineup that closed out an OT win at Utah State because of his defense. Saturday at Fresno, he hit 6 of 7 shots in 25 minutes and grabbed another 6 rebounds, catching the eye of guys like Gottlieb. I’ll paraphrase his point once again, which tells us how dangerous this team is and how valuable Quinn and his teammates are off the bench: If SDSU can get scoring off the bench from just one of those guys, it’s pretty much a wrap. And we’ve seen those bench guys come through again and again. That feeling you’ve got as you read this? That’s called bubbling confidence in your team. Let’s enjoy that.
Now there’s one thing Fresno State did well at times against the Aztecs that I think all opposing coaches will take note of it. The Bulldogs were not shy at all in pulling the trigger early in the shot clock after passing out of a trap near the sideline. While the Aztecs do want to force teams into taking tough, early shots after just one ball reversal; those shots are also perfectly reasonable for a team full of capable shooters. Against a defense that good, you won’t get ideal looks close to the basket. So maybe opposing coaches will give their guys the freedom to fire away early because there’s a good chance those quick threes might be the best look you get against this team.
And one thought on the coaching staff: It amazes me that they continue to see things so much sooner than most. I thought it was time to question the lineups that saw time together after the loss to New Mexico. What did we see right away? Dwayne Polee checking in very early in the first half of the last two games. And the lineups we saw against Fresno were especially fun. We saw Skylar Spencer play some very good basketball in the first 11+ minutes, then the Aztecs went to smaller lineups featuring J.J. O’Brien inside while Josh Davis had to sit with some foul trouble. That staff continues to amaze me. But it all makes sense when you think about it. They handled the Fab 5; is any challenge or attitude really going to surprise them?
Wednesday night will be fun. The Rebels are playing for their season at this point and the Aztecs obviously want to finish off this regular season strong and take the league title outright. Sounds like Roscoe Smith will be out, which is a big blow to Vegas. I’ve thought from the get go that this UNLV team did not fit together on the floor. But throw that all out the window, because this will be the biggest game of their season. The Aztecs won’t be caught off guard by a little extra energy; they’ve been getting everyone’s best effort all season long.