Aztecs beat Cal Bears, referees, reestablish ownership of California

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“A game we needed desperately.” – Steve Fisher in postgame radio interview.

San Diego State men’s basketball is a marquee program that missed the NCAA tournament last season. Bad losses to Arkansas-Little Rock, Grand Canyon and the windblown debacle at Petco put early black marks on that team’s résumé. They won the Mountain West regular season title but lost to Fresno in the conference tournament final. The NCAA selection committee, in their infinite wisdom, decided the MWC was a one-bid conference and SDSU was relegated to the NIT.

Beating Cal at the new NBA arena in downtown Sacramento was an important step in avoiding such a fate this season. Writers back East won’t have waited up for a game that tipped after 8 p.m. Pacific, but they’ll see the 77-65 scoreline over a decent Pac-12 team. For those of us who did watch it, in their first run at full strength, these Aztecs look pretty dang good.

At first it felt like Gonzaga again. The game was scoreless for almost two minutes before Cal made a couple free throws. Then Malik Pope got active. He banked in a one-handed tip off a Hemsley miss. Then he took a steal coast to coast for a layup and-1. Next he got an offensive rebound and was fouled on the putback. Pope would get in early foul trouble, but he had established an athletic tone for his squad.

SDSU led 34-18 after a Hemsley three late in the 1st half and controlled the game from then on. Cal got as close as eight in the 2nd half, but despite a soft parade to the foul line, this one never felt in serious peril.

Max Hoetzel saw his first action as an Aztec, a welcome sight after an injury scare last month. The redshirt soph rocks braces on both knees but he didn’t seem limited at all. Young Mr. Hoetzel, he of the multiple knee surgeries that led to his transfer from Indiana, put up a really nice line in his debut: 11 points, 7 rebounds, a block, a steal and an assist in 21 minutes. He also added to the growing tradition of the Blank 30 away uniform.

I’m guessing “game loop” means, uh, uniform. Which raises the question: players bring their own uniform to away games? Isn’t that the equipment staff’s job? Multi-million-dollar collegiate sports are so mysterious.

This was nominally a neutral-court site, though Cal got a video introduction and were the designated home team in Sacramento, just an hour-plus drive northeast from Berkeley. But by all appearances and reports, the Golden 1 Center was a virtual Viejas North. SDSU recruits heavy in Sacramento. Aztecs hoops travels well. The maligned Pac-12 Network was lucky to get a game featuring the best basketball school in the state.

San Diego State is 4-0 against Cal dating back to 2010. This was the first of a three-year scheduled series between the schools.

Matt Shrigley bricked his first couple shots but found the range, hitting 3 three-pointers in the first half. He rattled down his third just before halftime and made this face:

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“Eww. UGGGGH. My jumper is SO NASTY.”

Next game: Monday, Nov. 28 at 7 p.m. vs. Savannah State. No TV.

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Author: lemonverbena

Californian/Washingtonian, co-editor of Kabeer Thirty.

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