Harsh weather, tough opponents greet stumbling Aztecs in the mountains

The San Diego State basketball team trained Tuesday morning, took a bus to the airport and flew to Denver before Wednesday night’s game in Colorado State. It was greeted by Winter Storm Iggy, with what forecasters warned could be 15 inches of snow, 35-mph winds and “treacherous” conditions.

Welcome to the mountain west.

However, the Aztecs received their annual slap reminder three days earlier in the warm, fuzzy confines of Viejas Arena – a frustrating 76-67 loss to New Mexico that ended a 16-game home winning streak and offered a harsh lesson in just how treacherous the conditions at this conference can be.

“Basketball, you know,” said coach Brian Dutcher, “that’s unforgiving.”

It was the first conference loss for the Aztecs (13-4, 4-1) and cost them their spot in both major polls and pierced their aura of invincibility within the conference and crushed any idea of ​​a big lead when Boise State started in the 8-0 last season.

And now? Now they’re going into the teeth of Winter Storm Iggy for a couple of games in the Rockies — Colorado State at 5,023 feet on Wednesday, Air Force at 7,081 feet on Saturday night.

A week ago both were at the base of Mountain West after 0-3 starts. They’ve been 4-1 since then, and the loss comes from their game against each other.

It’s a familiar scenario: a team that has had a disappointing season is beefed up for the Aztecs with a chance for a Signature win.

It happened Jan. 7 in Wyoming, which like Colorado State (10-9, 2-4) has been in a tailspin since its All-Conference star suffered a lower leg injury in October. The Aztecs survived 80-75 after falling late at Laramie, and the Cowboys are terrible again.

A year ago, SDSU’s visit to CSU’s Moby Arena was the annual “Orange Out,” where they wear orange and alfalfa green uniforms as a tribute to their school colors when they were the Colorado A&M Aggies. This year: the annual “White Out” where fans wear white.

“We have a target on our backs in this league,” senior Adam Seiko said. “Everyone wants to hit us. Whether at home or on the go, it’s the biggest game of the year for everyone. They make it feel that way.”

The Aztecs are 5-5 at Moby Arena in their last 10 trips, including a controversial 58-57 loss last year when official Paul Szelc choked his whistle on a last-second shot by Matt Bradley, who was looking very much for a looked foul.

Three starters from that Rams team have since departed, Kendle Moore (Missouri State) and Dischon Thomas (Montana) via transfer portal and Mountain West Player of the Year David Roddy to the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies, who took him with their 23rd overall pick . Moore and Thomas left shortly after the season, but the 6-foot-6, 255-pound Roddy delayed his decision until a few hours before the June 1 deadline to maintain college eligibility, and the Rams had little time or opportunity to replace him .

One possibility was 6-6, 240-pound USD top scorer Marcellus Earlington, but he opted to stay on after a class credit transfer issue.

“I think in their own minds they thought Roddy was coming back,” Dutcher said. “When Roddy gets back, they’ll be up there in Mountain West. Then they got terrible news: their next best player, Isaiah Stevens, has a bad foot and has been sitting for most of preseason. Now he’s back. They still play hard and compete and I think their best basketball is still ahead of them.

Her last three games: a 22-point win over Fresno State, an overtime loss to the Air Force after Stevens’ layup was blocked three seconds from time, and an epic overtime win at UNLV, which included a the most unlikely buzzer beater you’ll ever see.

Stevens was four seconds back, five seconds to go, made a 3 and after two UNLV free throws another from midfield on a line drive lever with two hands behind his head – think a football throw-in – that was done ahead released to the buzzer and then paid in. Fourth behind, 22 seconds back in OT, he hit two more 3s (then forced a turnover on the inbounds pass) to secure the 82-81 decision.

“Just wanted us to win,” said coach Niko Medved of Stevens, who finished with 33 points (eight 3s), eight rebounds and nine assists.

The scary part:

“They finally won narrowly,” said Dutcher. “They played good games, they just didn’t get over the hump in enough of them. Now that they got a positive result maybe that will change how they feel when they hit the ground.”

The Aztecs also need to change their feel after a miserable performance against New Mexico, where they shot 11 of 21 from the line and 6 of 24 behind the arc (having shot 45.2 percent in their last five games). There was also Darrion Trammell’s four-point zero revenue performance, his worst in three years in Division I.

And Nathan Mensah fouled a technician with 8:20 left in a one-point play.

And Aguek Arop’s pre-game groin injury that robbed Dutcher of his first pick for Mensah.

And an epic performance from New Mexico guard Jaelen House and Jamal Mashburn Jr., who combined for 51 of the Lobos’ 76 points.

A perfect storm, one might say.

“The culture wins here,” said Cal transfer Matt Bradley, whose 14 points came from 5 of 16 shots. “Coming from a program where I feel like a lot of teams play just to compete and whatever happens, happens. Every loss is felt here. Losing that one is kind of disappointing.”

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