WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi did a question-and-answer session with Mark Zeigler, who covers San Diego State men’s basketball for the San Diego Union-Tribune, for Wednesday’s game with the 25th-ranked University of Wyoming. Tip-off is at 9 p.m. MT at the Arena-Auditorium in Laramie.
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What is the latest on the condition of senior forward Dwayne Polee II after collapsing during a game earlier this season, and how has his absence impacted the Aztecs?
Polee is at nearly every practice, sitting on the sideline and watching. Coach Steve Fisher put it like this: “He’s still in that medical maze.” He’s seen an array of specialists, and Fisher said it will be at least another five to seven days before they sit down and aggregate all the test results and medical opinions. I still think it’s as much an if as when proposition on his return, but the earliest we’d probably see him in uniform, you’d think, would be several more weeks.
Has anyone stepped up in your opinion with Polee out, or who do you think needs to moving forward?
It’s probably too early to say, but Matt Shrigley has been moved into the starting lineup (in place of freshman Trey Kell) and played well against New Mexico, showing he can do more than just sit on the perimeter and make 3s. Winston Shepard also had probably the best game of his career against New Mexico, certainly the best half of his career (16 points, 7 of 8 shooting, six rebounds). Polee was not playing particularly well when he went down, and Fisher had moved him out of the starting lineup. But without him, the bench is incredibly inexperienced (only 3.2 points per game from last season) and the Aztecs lose their most athletic player. He also was the top of the 1-3-1 zone defense that was so instrumental in winning the regular-season Mountain West title last season.
After a 59-57 loss at Fresno State Jan. 3 it seemed like many outsiders wrote off the Aztecs, but to me that seems like a very premature reaction. What is your take on that?
Just as fans over-reacted to the Fresno State loss, they might misread the New Mexico win. The season was not lost at Fresno, just as it was not won against New Mexico. I think what was so jarring to fans about the Fresno State loss was the how (trailing 19-3 after turnovers on their first three possessions) and the what (the end of the 47-game win streak against teams from the state of California). But in a weird way, it might have been what this team needed. There was a sense of denial after they nearly blew a 19-point lead against Air Force at home in the conference opener (Aqeel Quinn called it a “great win”), and the Fresno State loss seemed to shock them back to reality. The New Mexico result seemed to indicate that, but these next four games will really answer that question: at Wyoming, UNLV at home, at Air Force, at Colorado State.
Like Wyoming, San Diego State is among the nation’s leaders in scoring defense but at times can be offensively challenged. What are the biggest challenges offensively for the Aztecs?
It’s simple: They can’t shoot. We’re getting to the point of the season where it’s becoming harder and harder to pass off as a shooting slump. Even in the 14-point win against New Mexico, they shot only 39 percent. I think it has come as a bit of a shock to the coaching staff, which to a man said they thought this team would be better than last season because, despite losing Xavier Thames, they had more weapons. That said, they have shown flashes recently — the first half against Air Force, the 17-0 run in less than four minutes at Fresno State, Shepard’s breakout half against New Mexico. The problem is that their offensive struggles really reduce their margin of error, which is why they’re undefeated (9-0) when they turn it over less than their opponent and merely mortal (3-4) when they don’t.
How do you see Wednesday’s game unfolding?
It’s a big game for San Diego State, but maybe a bigger game for Wyoming, a rare chance to get separation on the rest of the league so early in the conference season. The biggest question for the Aztecs is whether they can win on the road. They’re 0-3 this season in true road games (as opposed to neutral-court games) and played poorly in all three. They scored 36 points at Washington, a school record-low for the Division I era. They ended a nine-game win streak in overtime games at Cincinnati. They were down 19-3 at Fresno State and lost to a 275 RPI team. Still, they seem to have a new resolve since the Fresno State game and have had eight days to prepare for Wyoming. I expect a close, low scoring, low possession game.
Cowboys game day
Game: San Diego State (12-4 overall, 2-1 Mountain West) at No. 25 Wyoming (15-2, 4-0)
When: 9 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Arena-Auditorium, Laramie
Radio: KFBC (1240 AM) Cheyenne; KCGY (95.1 FM) Laramie
Tickets: UW Athletics Ticket Office, 877-996-3261 or gowyo.com