As the old saying goes, “Defense wins championships”.
Well, the San Diego State Aztecs have all the defense.
Heading into the final minute of the game, the No. 25 Utah Utes (1-1) only managed to put up 38 points against the Aztecs (2-0). Thanks to some sloppy play at the end by both teams, Utah managed to get that total up to 49, but still came up four points shy, losing 53-49.
Both teams shot only 32% from the floor on Tuesday night in Viejas Arena, but SDSU’s +7 free throw margin, and +8 advantage in steals led to an Aztecs’ win.
J.J. O’Brien led SDSU with a double-double, scoring 12 points and grabbed 11 boards. The senior from Rancho Cucamonga will need to continue to be a big part of this team if the Aztecs are going to make a deep run in the tournament and reach the school’s first-ever Elite Eight.
The most talked about Aztec heading into the season has been junior forward Winston Shepard. Shepard got into a bit of foul trouble early, and only scored six points in 17 minutes played. Arizona transfer Angelo Chol did a good job coming off the bench for Shepard, grabbing five rebounds and pouring in eight points in 24 minutes.
Utah enters the season as the Pac-12’s most-likely candidate to be the second best team in the conference behind Arizona. But the Utes will need to show a little more than what they showed in San Diego. Just like the football team, the Utes struggled everywhere on offense. Junior guard Brandon Taylor was the team’s leading scorer with just nine points. Jakob Poeltl finished the game with 12 rebounds, with Chris Reyes bringing in nine of his own.
The highlight of the game was when Bill Walton declared that San Diego State was ending Utah’s bid for an undefeated season. Because reaching 1-0 is extremely close to going undefeated for the entire year.
Next up for San Diego State is a home game against Cal-State Bakersfield on Thursday before they head out to Hawaii for the EA Sports Maui Invitational, where a possible matchup against No. 2 Arizona awaits. Utah returns to Salt Lake City to take on the UC-Riverside Highlanders this upcoming Friday night. The next big game for Utah is December 3rd when No. 11 Wichita State comes to Salt Lake City.
*Section Photo and Featured Photo (above) credit to Kent. C. Horner, Getty Images.