SAN DIEGO (AP) — San Diego State had just blown out previously undefeated No. 20 Colorado State when coach Brian Dutcher said the Aztecs are still trying to find their rhythm and that their best basketball is still ahead.
That's a scary thought, especially if the Aztecs continue to play defense like they did Saturday.
Matt Bradley scored 26 points and the short-handed Aztecs raced past the Rams 79-49 in a game that wasn’t supposed to be played until March 1. Chad Baker-Mazara added 14 points for SDSU, (10-3, 2-0 Mountain West), which outscored the Rams 43-17 in the second half for its largest margin of victory ever against a ranked team.
Colorado State had been one of three undefeated teams left in Division I coming into Saturday. But the Rams were held to just 27.9% shooting from the field and were outrebounded 38-21. The Aztecs also blocked eight of the Rams' shots.
“It's just our culture," Dutcher said. “We just say from Day 1 when you get here, ‘You’re going to defend and rebound if you’re going to play at San Diego State.' That’s it. You have to defend and rebound. And we don’t use being short-handed as an excuse. I tell them, ‘I never worry about who I don’t have. I’ve just got to get the ones I do have ready to play.'"
Isaiah Stevens had 19 and David Roddy 17 for Colorado State.
Lamont Butler, who returned from a broken wrist, had 11 for SDSU while Aguek Arop and Keshad Johnson had 10 apiece.
“When we score like that, I mean it is hard to beat us,” Butler said. “Every game we’re going to come out with a high defensive mentality. It’s what we do. It’s our culture. If we play together on the offensive end, it’s going to be hard to beat us, for sure.”
The Aztecs were scheduled to play Nevada on Saturday but the game was postponed due to COVID-19 issues with the Wolf Pack. The Rams (11-1, 1-1) were supposed to have played at Boise State on Friday night, but that game also was postponed due to COVID-19 concerns. The Mountain West adjusted the schedule on Wednesday and sent the Rams to San Diego.
Bradley, a senior transfer from California, came on strong late in the first half and stayed hot in the second half in his highest-scoring game of the season. He hit consecutive 3-pointers to help the Aztecs extend a four-point halftime lead to 40-34, and just a few minutes later made consecutive turnaround jumpers to push the lead to 49-36.
“Matt Bradley was sensational," Dutcher said. “He got to his spot and he was shooting contested shots over people, foul line, 3-pointers, mid-post. He was just going to work."
Bradley hit a 3-pointer to give SDSU a 19-12 lead with just more than nine minutes left in the first half. The Rams came back to tie it several times, the last at 30-30 on two free throws by Roddy with 2:03 left. Bradley then hit a jumper to put the Aztecs ahead and then had a layup right before the buzzer to give him 14 points at the break.
Baker-Mazara scored seven straight points late in the game — on consecutive dunks and then a 3-pointer. The first dunk was set up when Butler came flying in to block a 3-pointer by John Tonje and the second one came after Baker-Mazara’s steal.
Colorado State: The Rams appeared to be at close to full strength. They have been ranked in the AP Top 25 for four straight weeks, a first in school history. The last time they were in the AP poll was late December 2014.
San Diego State: Butler returned after missing five games with a broken left wrist. But Adam Seiko and Joshua Tomaic, regulars in the rotation, were among several members of the SDSU program who missed the game due to the COVID-19 protocol (including walk-ons and managers).
“Coach always says, regardless of who’s here, as long as we’ve got five dudes we’re going to get the job done," Bradley said. “We had more than five, and with the group we had, we definitely dialed in. We knew we were counted out in this game and we trusted each other and we counted on each other and competed. I’m really happy for our guys."
Colorado State: Hosts Utah State on Wednesday.
San Diego State: At Wyoming on Wednesday.
More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25