The San Diego State Aztecs had a bad week, and they needed to take it out on somebody. It just so happened the Wyoming Cowboys were the unlucky ones to be next on the schedule.
Sophomore guard Chase Tapley scored a career-high 24 points and James Rahon chipped in with 14 as SDSU (21-1, 6-1 Mountain West Conference) trampled Wyoming 96-57 in front of 12,414 screaming fans at Viejas Arena on Saturday night.
“They’re the best team that we’ve played in the four years that I have been here,” Cowboys’ head coach Heath Schroyer said. “I was an assistant in this league when Utah went to the Final Four. It all depends on their seed, but they are better than (that Utah team). They are really, really good. When they make perimeter shots, I don’t know if anyone in the country can beat them, let alone in this building.”
Following the emotional loss to then-No. 9 BYU in Provo, Utah on Wednesday, the burning question on everyone’s mind was how the Aztecs were going to respond. Were they going to come out flat and suffer a letdown loss to the Cowboys (8-13, 1-6 MWC), or were they going to come out with a vengeance and remind the nation how good they are?
“I did have a bit of a concern that there might be just enough residual from BYU that we would be a hair off, and that’s all you need to have someone come in and beat your brains out,” head coach Steve Fisher said.
Fisher said earlier in the week that he never bought into the belief that a loss could help a team. But against Wyoming, it looked like the defeat from BYU lit a fire under the players.
“It was a self-check,” senior point guard D.J. Gay said of the loss. “It let us know that we can be beat if we don’t come out and play the way we want to play. I think if we beat BYU we wouldn’t have come out with this high energy against Wyoming (Saturday) but that loss against BYU was definitely a team self-check.”
Sophomore superstar Kawhi Leonard and senior Malcolm Thomas only had four points between them, but SDSU didn’t need the points with the way the entire team played on the offensive end.
“I made the comment at halftime when probably our two best players, Kawhi and Malcolm, had two points between them and they were happy about that — then you have a good team,” Fisher said. “That was the case (tonight).”
The first five minutes of the game were the polar opposite of the final five minutes of the match against the Cougars, when the Aztecs went ice cold from the field and BYU pulled away for the victory. On Saturday SDSU started the game with a 14-0 run, going 7-7 from the field.
The Aztecs rode a strong first half en route to a 53-22 lead, and would lead wire-to-wire for the fourth time this season.
The second half was much of the same. SDSU outscored the Cowboys 43-35, every player on the roster scored a basket and the Aztecs were able to win big on a day when 11 ranked teams lost.
“We came out from the opening tip and came with high energy,” Fisher said. “When we shoot the ball the way we did in the first half, we are hard to beat. We shot the ball tremendously well.”