The early season injury troubles the Aztecs have faced could only come straight out of a nightmare. Malik Pope, Max Hoetzel, and Ben Perez have not yet appeared in a game. Matt Shrigley and Valentine Izundu, too, watched Wednesday night from the end of the bench. Jalen McDaniels, still a likely redshirt candidate in spite of all the injuries, did not play either. Steve Fisher was left with 7 scholarship players and walk on Emmanuel Wilson.
Fisher went to his walk on guard early–fans could be heard scrambling to remind themselves of his name. Some that did recognize #12 in black noted the time of his first check in, which came before the 10:00 mark of the first half. San Diego Christian hung around for most of the first half, moving the ball from side to side and gobbling up some timely rebounds on both ends. The inspired play for the Hawks wasn’t sustainable Wednesday night at Viejas. Their mannequin challenge may have reached 100 likes, but no upset for them.
Trey Kell, Jeremy Hemsley, Dakarai Allen and Zylan Cheatham all shot 50% or better from the field. The Aztecs shot 56.1% as a team; the Hawks made only 20 of 62 shots (32.3%). Both teams really loosened up in the second half. The Hawks needed any offense they could get. The remaining healthy Aztecs probably couldn’t help but think about the preservation of their own bodies. They hunted open looks early in the clock, but still forced San Diego Christian to make shots over outstretched arms.
Montaque Gill-Caesar left the game in the first half after taking a shot to the nose. He did not return. Dakarai Allen left the floor with a slight limp in the second, but returned moments later to a warm ovation from the crowd, fully aware of the team’s injury woes.
Allen proceeded to steal the show after his return. His final stat line: 15 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 5 blocks and 2 steals in 36 minutes. He tossed in a right handed floater after euro-stepping by a defender, and was the recipient of a few easy lay ins after running the floor or positioning himself under the basket in the half court. Allen’s night could be summed up nicely by one chain of events that started, naturally, with his defense.
The Hawks generated plenty of open threes, and one of their guards was ready to hoist another from the left corner–right in front of his own bench and The Show. Allen closed out to him quickly and got a hand on the shot, sending it up into the air. D’Erryl Willaims corralled it as Allen took off down the sideline. Williams lofted a 70+ foot pass over the defense right to Allen, in stride, for a layup.
More small notes from Wednesday night:
Zylan Cheatham using both hands
Cheatham has been featured some working from the post. He can blow by just about anybody that tries to get in his jersey and has flashed some nice touch with a right handed hook shot. Eventually, even if not for weeks, smart teams will force him to shoot over them or make that same hook shot with his left hand. The jury is still out on the jumper. But we saw him back down his man once to go to the hook with his left. It didn’t go in, but it definitely wasn’t a clunker. Aztecs fans are much more concerned with a zone offense right now, but Cheatham rounding out his game as teams stick to man-to-man is a sight to behold.
Nolan Narain, working from that short corner
I’ve talked about Narain from that spot a few times already. He hit two shots from the left side on Wednesday over the top of a smaller defender. The Aztecs will take all they can from their role players to stretch the defense.
Jeremy Hemsley, force of nature in transition
Just give him the ball after every rebound. Let him run, run, and run some more. Hemsley doesn’t even need to stick to obvious driving lanes. He leverages his body to create them after changing speeds to knock his defender off balance or using his quick first step to just blow right by and into the paint.
For fans already looking to Monday’s matchup with Cal, there’s this:
Header photo via Ernie Anderson/goaztecs.com