No. 7 San Diego State aims to extend its best start in nine years when it travels to Wyoming’s Arena-Auditorium in Laramie on Wednesday.
The Aztecs (15-0, 4-0 Mountain West Conference) knocked off reigning conference co-regular-season champion Utah State 77-68 on the road Saturday to remain one of only two undefeated teams in Division I basketball. The other is 2019 Final Four participant Auburn.
With the win, San Diego State is just five wins away from matching the 2010-11 Aztecs, who opened 20-0 behind Kawhi Leonard and went on to reach the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16. It was the best postseason finish in program history, matched only by another Sweet 16 appearance in 2014.
“Trust yourself, trust your teammates, trust your coaches, and you’re going to have good results,” San Diego State head coach Brian Dutcher said in the postgame press conference following Saturday’s win.
Malachi Flynn, San Diego State’s season-long leading scorer at 15.9 points per game, posted a team-best 22 points at Utah State. The key road victory was also big for forward Matt Mitchell, making his second start of the season.
Mitchell provided a spark off the bench for San Diego State through its first 12 games, but has elevated his play since cracking the starting lineup. He scored 19 points at Utah State and grabbed seven rebounds, one game removed from posting 15 points and six rebounds in his first start, Jan. 1 vs. Fresno State.
Mitchell (11.7-point average) is one of four Aztecs averaging double-figures scoring heading into Wednesday’s conference tilt with Wyoming. Yanni Wetzel adds 10.7 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, while Jordan Schakel is registering 10.2 points per game.
Such offensive balance has buoyed San Diego State on one end, while its trademark aggressive defense flourishes on the other. The Aztecs rank No. 12 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com, and hold opponents to the 13th-best 3-point shooting percentage, 26.6 percent.
Three-point defense had an impact last time out, particularly against Utah State sharpshooter Sam Merrill. Though he scored a game-high 26 points, San Diego State limited him to 3 of 12 from behind the 3-point arc.
Defense traveled well for San Diego State the last time out despite a clear environmental disadvantage for the visitor.
“The environment, the atmosphere, [it is] a little bit hard to breathe,” Mitchell said of Logan, Utah, at an elevation of 4,534 feet.
That is more than 4,000 feet higher than San Diego State’s campus — yet roughly 2,600 feet lower than Arena-Auditorium, elevation of the highest venue in Division I basketball.
Wyoming (5-11, 0-4) will try to exercise its home-court advantage in the Cowboys’ first home Mountain West game since Dec. 7. Wyoming dropped a 79-65 decision then to New Mexico, and returned to conference play with road losses at Boise State on Jan. 1 and Colorado State on Saturday.
“For any competitor, it’s going to be upsetting,” Wyoming leading scorer Hunter Maldonado told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle following Saturday’s 72-61 loss. “I hate losing. I know all my teammates hate losing, so it’s pretty frustrating. But you’ve just to learn from it and get better.”
Maldonado is averaging 18.1 points per game, but no other Cowboys’ player is scoring in double figures. Wyoming comes into Wednesday’s matchup ranked No. 337 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency.
–Field Level Media