UW-San Diego State men’s hoops Q&A

WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi did a question-and-answer session with Tod Leonard, who helps cover San Diego State men’s basketball for the San Diego Union-Tribune, about Tuesday night’s game with the University of Wyoming at 9:05 p.m. at the Arena-Auditorium in Laramie.

Follow on Twitter: @sdutleonard

How surprised are you that San Diego State is No. 5 in the nation, undefeated in the MW and winners of 20 straight games? Wasn’t this supposed to be somewhat of a transition season for the Aztecs?

With the Mountain West Player of the Year from last season, Jamaal Franklin, leaving one season early for the NBA, there seemed to be a consensus in the Mountain West that this would be a transition season. The Aztecs were picked by the coaches to finish fourth in the conference. Nobody, including San Diego State coach Steve Fisher, saw a 20-game winning streak or 10-0 start in the MW coming. The team is young, and point guard Xavier Thames, who had a history of back trouble, needed to fill Franklin’s role and the Aztecs had to get a big contribution from sophomore forward Winston Shepard. Both have produced, and 6-feet-10 sophomore Skylar Spencer has come up big on the inside defense with 54 blocked shots in the past 20 games.

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UW-Air Force Q&A

WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi did a question-and-answer session with Brent Briggeman, who covers Air Force men’s basketball for The Gazette in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Wyoming (18-9 overall, 4-9 Mountain West) plays at Air Force (15-10, 6-6) at 7 tonight at Clune Arena at the Air Force Academy.

Question: Air Force won’t win the Mountain West regular-season title, but remains in the hunt for an upper-half finish. Are the Falcons one of the best stories in the conference after being picked to finish last in the preseason?

Answer: The team clearly thinks it is. Coach Dave Pilipovich has used those conference predictions as a constant motivator throughout the season, posting them in the locker room where they are an ever-present reminder of what others think of the team. The improved performance has led to some of the biggest crowds since Air Force’s NCAA Tournament teams of the mid-2000s. It’s always tricky to build programs at the academy between the academic standards, the disadvantage of not being able to add transfers and the post-graduate military commitment, so anytime a revenue sport can enjoy a resurgence it tends to be a big deal around the institution.

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UW-San Diego State postgame thoughts

First thought that comes to mind … I’m glad it is over.

The undermanned Wyoming Cowboys had no answer for San Diego State in a 79-51 loss. UW trailed by as many as 31 points as it didn’t have senior forward Leonard Washington (ankle) and lost sophomore forward Derek Cooke Jr. — who started for Washington — with a back injury.

Sophomore forward Larry Nance Jr., needed an IV before the game just to play, and he had only four points and no rebounds. Senior point guard Derrious Gilmore was still sick as well, but led UW with 15 points.

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UW-San Diego State postgame thoughts

I would a liar if I said I saw that coming.

Wyoming holds No. 15 San Diego State (14th in the coaches poll) to 28.8 percent shooting and 2 of 18 from 3-point range, and finds enough ways to score for a 58-45 win in front of 9,573 fans Saturday night at the Arena-Auditorium — the largest home crowd in nearly eight years.

I thought if Wyoming had any chance to win it would have to play good defense, but I even though that’s what this team does night in and night out, I didn’t think it could score enough points.

But this isn’t the first time this team has proved me wrong.

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UW-San Diego State pregame notes

It will be interesting to see in today’s Wyoming-San Diego State men’s hoops game if San Diego State has point guard Xavier Thames. He sat out the conference-opener last week at Fresno State with a bad back, and had no points and no assists in 25 minutes in the Aztecs’ 82-75 home loss to UNLV on Wednesday.

There are plenty of other guys that can play the point for SDSU. But still, that could be an interesting thing to follow today. This would have been a good game to get senior guard Luke Martinez back at 6-foot-4 to help defend the 6-3 Thames, 6-3 senior guard Chase Tapley or even 6-5 guard Jamaal Franklin — the reigning MW Player of the Year. SDSU also has a 6-8 freshman, Winston Shepard, than can play the point, or at very least, handle the ball.

–UW and San Diego State were a combined 8 of 56 (14.3 percent) from 3-point range in their last games. The Cowboys must make some 3s to have a chance to win today.

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Thoughts on All-MW men’s hoops team

Here is the link to the All-Mountain West men’s basketball team and other honorees:

http://www.themwc.com/sports/m-baskbl/spec-rel/030512aad.html

I was fortunate to vote on this, and I had four of the five players on both the first and second teams, including UW junior forward Leonard Washington. He’s UW’s highest All-MW pick since senior guard Brandon Ewing made the first team in 2008-09.

I didn’t vote for senior point guard JayDee Luster as the Defensive Player of the Year, but it was well-deserved. When coach Larry Shyatt says he’s the best defender he’s coached in his 40 years on the job, that really says something.

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UW-San Diego State Q&A

I am still in Orlando, Fla., for the Associated Press Sports Editors winter conference and contest judging event. Not trying to rub it in to those of you back in Wyoming, but the weather is a lot better here. … Windy, but in the 70s.

Anyway, I caught up with Mark Zeigler who covers San Diego State men’s basketball for the San Diego Union-Tribune and I asked him five questions on Wednesday’s Wyoming-SDSU game.

With San Diego State’s recent struggles, is the team wearing down because of a lack of depth with only nine scholarship players? I don’t think anyone knows for sure, but it certainly looks that way. Two things I have noticed that would indicate accumulated fatigue are players getting stuck in screens far more often than earlier in the season, and flatter jump shots. Both point to tired or heavy legs. And the nine scholarship players is deceiving. One rarely plays. Another plays but only because a guard has to come off the bench and there’s no one else. Another is DeShawn Stephens, who was cut from his high school team and, while an incredibly inspirational story, is in just his third year of organized basketball (and first at the Division I level). So when Jamaal Franklin sat out the Air Force game with a sprained ankle and Garrett Green, his replacement in the starting lineup, sprained an ankle midway through the second half, they in reality were down to four experienced players who get meaningful minutes.

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UW-San Diego State postgame thoughts

“We made decisions with the basketball, and even without the basketball, we haven’t done all year. We have even done that in practice.”

That’s how Wyoming coach Larry Shyatt described his team’s offense in a 52-42 loss to the 13th-ranked Aztecs Tuesday night in Laramie.

Shyatt said it wasn’t so much what SDSU did on defense, other than play with great positioning, than his team “self-destructing” with its decision-making.

UW shot only 30.6 percent. That and its point total were season-lows.

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