I’ve written plenty about San Diego State this season. And while most of it has been glowing, there have been a lot of “yeah… but” moments. Yeah, they’re great defensively; yeah they’re athletic and long; yeah they’re well-coached; but then I would harp on some of their perceived weaknesses. After watching them wear down and put away a solid Nevada team on Saturday night at Viejas Arena for their 20th consecutive win, today there will be no mention of those weaknesses. Because one of the things that makes this Aztecs team so great is that they play to their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. The story of this team is that they find a way to do what they want to do, while not letting their opponent do what they want to do. They’re like an unwelcome visitor reclining on your couch and cracking a beer; they get comfortable and prevent you from doing same.
Before every game, Steve Fisher puts up a list of keys to success on the white board in the locker room. Some of them are basic and general: rebound the ball, limit turnovers, etc. Some are more involved, such as a goal to generate at least one 8-0 run per half, or to make more free throws than the other team takes. But each of these gives a window into the priorities for this squad. Most of it begins on the defensive end, like that goal for runs, something Fisher plans for. “It comes with staying with it and not allowing them to get an easy basket, not making a foolish turnover or giving them a second chance to end a run, and eventually you’re going to have a chance to get one of those,” said Fisher Saturday night. “That’s the earmark of any real good team; you play even for awhile and then all of a sudden you have a spurt.” They didn’t get one of those spurts in either half on Saturday night, coming up just short with a pair of 7-0 runs instead. There was one right at the end of the first half where the Aztecs responded to the Wolf Pack taking a one-point lead by forcing three turnovers over the course of four possessions, all of which resulted in transition opportunities. In the second half they widened a seven-point margin to a 14-point lead on the back of another turnover and getting to the line. On Wednesday night against Boise State, it was a 15-0 run, marked not only by forced turnovers, but also by good, solid, lockdown defense.