After the San Diego State men’s basketball team left Provo, Utah with a loss to BYU earlier this season, SDSU fans collectively went to their calendars and circled Saturday, Feb. 26, when the Cougars were scheduled to come to San Diego and play the Aztecs on their home turf.
With CBS televising the game nationally, it was supposed to be SDSU’s coming out party, its day of revenge, its chance to show the country that it was capable of beating a Final Four-caliber team.
Only, it wasn’t.
Coming into a hostile, decibel-shattering Viejas Arena, Jimmer Fredette lit up the Aztecs for 25 points and nine assists and BYU hit 14 3-pointers as it beat SDSU 80-67 and handed the Aztecs their first home loss of the season.
“This was the kind of atmosphere, excitement, electricity that you dream about having,” head coach Steve Fisher said. “And these were two teams that merited that type of attention. We played hard, BYU played hard. We played OK, BYU played better. They are a really, really good basketball team, and they showed that again today.”
SDSU sophomore forward Kawhi Leonard had another double-double (17 points, 13 rebounds), but several Aztecs struggled from the field. Senior forward Malcolm Thomas was held to nine points on 3-10 shooting and BYU’s Jackson Emery held usually reliable D.J. Gay to six points. The senior point guard didn’t even score his first points until he hit a trey at the 11:41 mark of the second half.
“I noticed they put their best defender on me, (Jackson) Emery, and he does a great job of playing off ball and playing on ball,” Gay said. “I sensed that they (were) giving me attention, which would leave other gaps open for other players. They (made) it hard for me to get my three-point shot off, and once I get past the first defender, the second defender steps up really quick.”
When Fredette wasn’t torching the Aztecs with his long range bombs and “ooh-ahh” spin moves, he was dishing to his teammates, who simply couldn’t miss. With SDSU double-teaming (and at times even triple-teaming) Fredette, he was still able to find an open teammate. The Cougars shot 58.3 percent from long distance and Noah Hartsock, Charles Abouo and Jackson Emery all scored in double digits.
The Aztecs only lead came at the start of the game, when they were up 2-0. After that, it was all Fredette and the Cougars. BYU never trailed after 17:55 in the first half, and their largest lead was 13 points after an Emery three-pointer.
Whenever it looked like the Aztecs would hit a few shots and try to make a run, BYU had an answer and stopped SDSU’s momentum with its 2-3 zone.
“I thought we had all sorts of looks that we were not able to bring to closure with,” Fisher said. “Not unlike the first game … There were no gimmies in that game. But we had looks. Against the zone, usually it takes you a little longer to get that look, but we had a lot of good looks, and didn’t make enough of them.”
Although SDSU came up short, the team is already looking forward to the rest of the season. However, according to senior forward Billy White, the team will learn from the loss.
“I think everybody, the whole school, people are disappointed,” White said. “But you know, I know they are going to stay behind us 100 percent … We have got two more games left, and we have to just look at the tape tomorrow. If we watch tape and move on, I know our team is not going to forget about this.”