Utah-San Diego St. Preview
Utah struggled quite a bit toward the end of its time in the Mountain West, and San Diego State was likely one of the teams disappointed to see the Runnin’ Utes join the Pac-12.
The former conference foes meet Tuesday for the first time since the Utes took their act to a new conference, and the Aztecs welcome them to San Diego with a pair of winning streaks to uphold.
Sixteenth-ranked San Diego State has won the last five games in the series as well as the last five home meetings against the No. 25 Utes, though this version could present a tougher challenge than any of those teams did.
The Aztecs tuned up by opening their season with Friday’s 79-58 victory over Cal State Northridge to extend their home winning streak to 15.
"It was a good start," said coach Steve Fisher, whose team returned three of five starters after reaching the regional semifinals in the NCAA tournament. "There’s more to come. It’s a big game on Tuesday but today was a big game."
Aqeel Quinn scored 15 points against his former team, Winston Shepard had 14, former Utah forward JJ O’Brien scored 13 and Dwayne Polee II had 11 in his first start as an Aztec.
Hometown freshman Trey Kell started at point guard and played 25 minutes, while classmate Kevin Zabo played the remaining 15 minutes for the Aztecs, who lost star guard Xavier Thames to graduation.
"I thought the two freshmen who played point guard did a nice job," said Fisher, whose team is seeking its first 2-0 start in three seasons. "We don’t view them as freshmen, we view them as players. Trey’s starting for us. Both of them did some very good things. Both of them did some things they have to improve on."
While San Diego State has won four of six against ranked opponents, Utah has struggled greatly against Top 25 teams, winning just twice in its last 17 tries – including three losses to the Aztecs.
The Utes might be able to end those struggles with another offensive performance like they had in Friday’s 90-72 win over Ball State. They shot 59.2 percent, had a 35-22 rebounding advantage, outscored the Cardinals 42-14 in the paint and scored 24 points off 11 steals.
Utah only attempted nine 3-pointers, but made six of them.
"The whole team had a lot of energy," said 7-foot freshman Jakob Poeltl, who had 18 points and 10 rebounds in his debut. "We forced them into turnovers. We got running and it’s easy to play basketball like that if you get running and get momentum."
All-Pac-12 guard Delon Wright had 13 points, eight assists and four steals, backcourt mate Brandon Taylor led the team with 19 points and forward Jordan Loveridge added 18 as the Utes outscored Ball State 55-42 after halftime.
"We couldn’t get easy baskets (early)," said Wright, who led a team last season that was tied for 11th nationally in field-goal percentage (48.8 percent). "We were playing into their game and having to play defense. Turnovers sucked the life out of us and the coaches were getting on us. We just tried to get some easy baskets and not turn the ball over."
Such a strong shooting night could be tough to replicate. San Diego State has held opponents to 38.6 percent since the start of last season, which ranks ninth nationally.
The Aztecs have held 18 straight opponents under 70 points at home – a 17-1 stretch.