No. 7 Aztecs struggle, still beat TCU
San Diego State coach Steve Fisher had several friends come up to him Saturday night and tell him that any win is a good win.
In other words, the No. 7 Aztecs weren't at all dominating in beating TCU 60-53.
Billy White scored 19 points and Kawhi Leonard had 11 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Aztecs (23-1, 8-1 Mountain West), who've won three straight since their only loss, 71-58 at BYU on Jan. 26.
SDSU continues to share the conference lead with No. 8 BYU, which beat UNLV 78-64. Malcolm Thomas added 11 points and 14 rebounds.
For sure, TCU had something to do with it, even though the Horned Frogs (10-14, 1-8) lost their sixth straight.
''This is a team that's starving for a win, and if they play that hard, they'll get a win,'' Fisher said.
''The flip of that is, I thought we had a little bit lacking in terms of an edge about us that sometimes is hard to pinpoint. But it shows just enough that balls bounce off our hands, and we had opportunities where we didn't quite finish,'' Fisher said. ''We have to be better, but some kudos should go to TCU.''
Leonard, a sophomore forward, was given credit for a rebound at the final buzzer even though he was bobbling the ball. Nevertheless, it gave him this 16th double-double of the season and 33rd of his career.
The Aztecs looked lethargic in the first half and, after taking a 28-24 halftime lead, finally took control early in the second half.
Playing without guard Chase Tapley and forward Tim Shelton after first-half injuries, the Aztecs used a 6-0 run to take a 34-26 lead with 15:47 to play. James Rahon made a three-pointer and two free throws, and Thomas hit one of two from the line.
Hill made a bank shot for TCU, and Leonard followed with a slam dunk to give SDSU a 36-28 lead.
''We definitely didn't play our best basketball tonight, but we do have depth,'' point guard D.J. Gay said.
''Something definitely felt off in the first half, and we couldn't figure out what it was,'' Gay said. ''There were some things we wanted to do out there that we just didn't do. At halftime we talked as a team and the coaches got on our case. We tried to pick up the tempo in the second half.''
With TCU's leading scorer Ronnie Moss remaining on indefinite suspension, Hank Thorns led the Horned Frogs with 16 points and Greg Hill had 12.
''We wanted to dictate the tempo of the game,'' TCU coach Jim Christian said. ''That was the only chance we had, and I think we did that for the most part. Give them credit. They made huge plays down the stretch.''
White had 15 points in the second half.
''I thought Billy, who we never run plays for, we finally said, 'Let's go to Billy,' and then we went to him about seven times in a row, and he delivered,'' Fisher said. ''He was very, very good. He was a hard guard for them in the second half, and he was a pivotal offensive piece for us in this ballgame.''
The Aztecs came out flat three nights after Gay's jumper with 1.8 seconds left gave them a 56-54 win at Colorado State, as reflected by their 12 for 29 shooting (41.4 percent) in the first half.
Tapley injured his left ankle during a nasty spill under the Aztecs' basket early in the game and didn't return. Later in the half, Shelton injured his right foot.
TCU took a 6-0 lead and, even after SDSU caught up, continued to play toe-to-toe with the Aztecs through the first half. SDSU had a chance to pull away, but missed four straight shots during one stretch, while Garlon Green made a three-pointer to give TCU a 21-19 lead.
The Aztecs finally got something going, with a dunk by Thomas and a steal by Gay, who passed to Leonard for a layup and a 24-21 lead. Thorns made a rainbow three-pointer to tie it before Gay hit a long jumper with 41 seconds left.
There was some confusion over possession at the end of the opening half. After the clock expired, SDSU coach Steve Fisher argued that the Aztecs should have had the ball with 0.4 seconds left. The refs put the time back on the clock and Leonard beat the buzzer with a quick jumper on the inbounds pass from Gay for a 28-24 lead.
''That was a nice little two-point freebie,'' Fisher said.
''We played really good, and I think we should have come out with the victory,'' Thorns said. ''But we showed progression, and that's all we need at this point.''