College Basketball Nation: Chase Tapley

You can’t learn how to dunk. You either jump, or you don’t. You can, however, learn how to shoot: feet shoulder-width apart, right foot an inch ahead of left, elbow over the knee, wrist parallel to the floor, ball gently placed in fingertips, elbow straight, up and out, follow through with the wrist. Rinse, repeat.

That’s the great thing about the art of long-range shooting. It requires nothing but a few quick mechanics and tons and tons and tons of practice. The best players in the world are rarely the best shooters, because they don’t have to be. But if you can master your shot, you can level the playing field at all levels, from your local pickup game to the NBA. And aesthetically, there are few things more satisfying than watching a beautifully shot ball drop perfectly through the net. I love good shooting.

As you can imagine, it was rather fun to put together the following list -- the nation’s 10 most dangerous 3-point shooters. (Freshmen, as always, were excluded.)

1. Doug McDermott, Creighton: Let’s get one thing clear: There are 3-point specialists on this list that have made more 3-pointers than McDermott in his career. They are arguably better “pure” shooters. But none of them, not a single one, manages to blend the sheer overall offensive efficiency that McDermott brings to the game; none of them maintains utterly deadly 3-point shooting in their reportoire as an afterthought. But that’s exactly what McDermott did in 2011–12, when he was one of the most efficient offensive players in the country. McDermott attempted 400 2-point field goals and made 63.2 percent of them. He attempted 111 3-pointers and cashed 48.6 percent. His true shooting percentage (67.8) and effective field goal percentage (65.4) were third- and sixth-best in the country, respectively.

[+] EnlargeCreighton's Doug McDermott
Jeff Curry/US PRESSWIREThe versatile game of Doug McDermott includes 48.6 percent shooting from 3-point range.
So, why put him atop this list, when others have made more 3s, who serve as lethal catch-and-shoot specialists for their teams? Because you can’t guard McDermott the way you can guard most of the country’s best shooters. At 6-foot–7, he’s too tall, his post game too sharp, to be put in any particular box. He’ll work you to death with pivots and drop-steps on the low block, just before stepping outside, or catching in transition, and hitting one out of every two 3s he takes.

I mean, seriously: How on Earth do you stop that?

2. Jordan Hulls, Indiana: Hulls may have flaws in his game -- he’s undersized (and definitely shorter than his gentleman’s listing of 6-foot) and an occasional defensive liability at the point of attack -- but he has plenty of strengths, too. He can handle, he can dish, he’s whip-smart and, oh by the way, the boy can really shoot. In 2011-12, he went 72-of-146 from beyond the arc, good for 49.3 percent, the second highest rate in the country. (He also shot 89.9 percent from the free throw line.) And while you’d expect someone with Hulls’ size to struggle to get his shot off, he really doesn’t -- he can get looks from off-ball screens and high picks, he can step under a defender and bury the 20-footer, and he can catch and release as quickly as any player in the country. And if you leave him open? Well, just start running the other way.

3. Brady Heslip, Baylor: In 2011-12, Heslip shot the ball inside the arc exactly 57 times. But don’t worry, he got still got his looks -- fully 220 of them from outside the arc. He made 100 of them, or 45.5 percent. Considering the volume involved, that is very efficient work, and a big part of the reason why Heslip ended the season with an eye-popping 138.6 offensive rating, best in the country among players with similar usage rates. If I was Baylor, I would focus on getting Heslip as many looks as possible this season.

4. Isaiah Canaan, Murray State: Canaan is a lot like McDermott, and a couple of other names on this list, in that he is so much more than a pure shooter … who also happens to be a pure shooter. Canaan is also his team’s primary ballhandler; he posted a 24.1 percent assist rate last season, easily the highest among any frequent Racers' contributor. He also drew 5.3 fouls per 40 minutes, shot 83.7 percent from the stripe and 48.1 percent from the arc. And, oh yeah, he made 45.6 percent of his 215 3-point field goal attempts last season. Defenses, Ohio Valley and otherwise, can’t contain Canaan, because he can get his own shot, or get into the lane, or hit a 25-footer in your face.

5. Rotnei Clarke, Butler: Clarke sat out last season after transferring to Butler, where he will take on a new role that may require him to do much more distributing and far less spot-up shooting. He also suffered a foot injury, though he appears to be recovered fully. In any case, the dude can stroke it: Clarke has shot 39.3 percent, 42.7 percent and 43.8 percent in his freshman, sophomore and junior seasons, respectively, and has 274 career 3s to his name. It will be interesting to see what his new team does for his production/efficiency (his Arkansas teams were never particularly good, so it could just as easily enhance both, too), but there’s no question Clarke is a major threat beyond the arc.

6. Langston Galloway, Saint Joseph’s: I’m guessing most casual hoops fans will not be familiar with Langston Galloway, but it’s time to correct that. In 2011–12, Galloway was one of the best 10 3-point shooters in the country, making 46.6 percent of his 193 attempts. Almost all of those shots came via the spot-up, where Galloway is just lethal. According to Synergy Sports, Galloway scored 1.38 points per spot-up jumper, and 1.49 points for every spot-up shot that came from beyond the arc. It is a bad idea to let him get loose, but with so many other returning weapons making up Phil Martelli’s highly regarded A-10 contender, keeping Galloway in check is easier said than done.

7. Chase Tapley, San Diego State: Tapley’s presence is a through line marking the recent ascendance of Aztecs hoops, beginning with his supporting role* on the Kawhi Leonard-led 2011 breakout squad. He stepped into a larger role last season, and responded by making 43.3 percent of his 3s, an improvement from the year prior despite an 70-attempt increase in volume (and a decrease in 2-point field goal accuracy). Tapley will have to be just as deadly from outside this season if San Diego State plans to live up to its preseason billing. I’m not worried. (*The original version of this post said Tapley came off the bench in 2011; in fact, he started the majority of games that season. My apologies for the error.)

[+] EnlargeChristian Watford
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireChristian Watford drained arguably the most memorable 3 of the college basketball season.
8. Christian Watford, Indiana: There is a reason the Hoosiers offense was the fourth-best in the country last season. Not only did it boast monster freshman center Cody Zeller, and not only did it get efficient shooting from the aforementioned Jordan Hulls, and balance from Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey (to say nothing of Matt Roth’s 54.5 percent 3-point shooting), but its second-most-used player is a 6-foot-9 forward who also happens to be lights-out from the perimeter. Watford made 43.7 percent of his 3s last season, and he shot plenty of them -- 119, to be exact (one of which you may have seen a few times before). Before Zeller’s arrival, Watford was often forced to play in the post, a position for which he is particularly ill-suited. Now that Zeller commands the low block, Watford is free to set up outside, peer over the defense, and fire away. It’s his niche.

9. Kenny Boynton, Florida: Among the handful of players who shot as many 3s in 2011-12 as Boynton, only Vanderbilt guard John Jenkins was a fellow member of a power-six conference. Boynton fired from downtown 270 times last season. If we were talking about his freshman or sophomore seasons -- in which Boynton was similarly free of conscience but far inferior as a shooter -- that would not necessarily be a good things. But because Boynton hit 40.7 percent of his 3s, he was a major reason why Florida’s offense was so difficult to stop. He can handle it and get into the lane, too, but his 3-point attempts dwarf his 2s, and as long as he’s making them at a 40-percent or higher rate, he’s very dangerous to opposing defenses.

10. Scott Wood, NC State: We talk a lot about NC State’s pieces, and these discussions typically center on point guard Lorenzo Brown, or forward C.J. Leslie, or touted freshman shooting guard Rodney Purvis. Far more overlooked is the offense Wood provides, and the way he provides it. At 6-foot–6, Scott is similar to Watford in his ability to step out and see over defenses, if slightly easier to run off the ball. (Despite his size, Wood attempted 232 3s and just 78 2s in 2012.) Whatever his breakdowns, Wood’s 40.9 percent shooting on a large number of attempts is crucial again this season, because NC State’s still-improving offense will desperately need the outside balance.

Honorable mentions: Travis Bader, Oakland; Scott Bamforth, Weber State, C.J. Wilcox, Washington, Allen Crabbe, Cal; Ethan Wragge, Creighton

Freshmen to watch (thanks to Dave Telep for the suggestions): Phil Forte, Oklahoma State; Isaiah Zierden, Creighton; Omar Calhoun, UConn; Katin Reinhardt, UNLV; Melvin Johnson, VCU; Kellen Dunham, Butler; Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke, Michael Frazier, Florida
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The afternoon slate of NCAA tournament games at Nationwide Arena on Friday will feature a pair of intriguing matchups. San Diego State will try to stop NC State from running away with the upset -- literally. And Belmont versus Georgetown pits one of the nation’s top 3-point shooting teams against the squad that’s most equipped to defend it.

No. 11 NC State (22-12) vs. No. 6 San Diego State (26-7), 12:40 p.m. ET

Last year, San Diego State charmed the country with its surge to the Sweet 16 as former Aztecs star Kawhi Leonard led the way. But Steve Fisher lost four starters from that team. Preseason projections suggested that the Aztecs would not come close to duplicating last season’s achievements.

But this program has proved its doubters wrong this year.

The Aztecs shared the Mountain West crown with New Mexico during the regular season. They’re undersized and they’re not very deep, but they’ve held their opponents to a 40 percent shooting clip, second in the conference.

Jamaal Franklin (17.2 points per game) and Chase Tapley (15.7 ppg) are a potent duo for a program that’s overcome adversity in close games. They’re 4-0 in overtime this season.

“It helped a lot. The NCAA tournament, you get those kind of games like every night, close barn-burning games, and those games at the beginning of the year, early in the year, like UC Santa Barbara, the Creighton game, games like that really prepared us for this moment we have right now,” Tapley said.

The Aztecs have been here before. The bright lights of March are not new for the program.

When Mark Gottfried took the Wolfpack job last summer, however, he understood that he’d have to rebuild a winning tradition at NC State.

Leading the Wolfpack to its first NCAA tournament bid since 2006 is a start.

“Our banners, national championship banners are hanging in our gym,” he said. “Our guys see them every day. And they understand the tradition and the history of NC State. Been in three Final Fours, won two national championships. So our players are very well aware of that.”

There were a multitude of reasons to doubt both teams’ chances of reaching March Madness.

To stay here, however, San Diego State will have to overcome its size disadvantage and try to control the tempo against a NC State team that likes to run. The Wolfpack will have to take advantage of their athleticism and transition offense to beat the Aztecs.

NC State’s scoring offense (73.6 ppg and 81st in Ken Pomeroy’s tempo ratings) was third behind North Carolina’s and Duke’s in the ACC. C.J. Leslie (14.6 ppg) leads five Wolfpack players in double figures.

San Diego State hopes to limit NC State’s ability to fully utilize its talent by slowing the game down in a matchup against a squad that’s shooting 46.3 percent from the field.

But the Aztecs said they feel comfortable picking up the pace, too.

“[We’re] not going to get in a transition game, really pick our spots here and there and run,” SDSU’s Xavier Thames said. “And whatever they want to play, we can play. We could play a slow-down game, we could play a transition game.”

NC State has to worry about matching up with an Aztecs team that employs a four-guard set.

“I feel that we have four guys on the perimeter, including C.J. Leslie, that can guard any position, 1 through 4,” C.J. Williams said.

No. 14 Belmont (27-7) vs. No. 3 Georgetown (23-8), 3:10 p.m. ET

It seems simple.

Belmont loves the 3-ball (8.8 per game, 10th in the nation). Georgetown plays the best perimeter defense in America (27 percent 3-point field goal percentage allowed).

Something has to give when the Bruins face the Hoyas in this second-round matchup in the NCAA tournament, right?

“We gotta penetrate when we can and be strong when we penetrate and find shooters on the perimeter and hopefully get inside the defense,” Belmont’s Kerron Johnson said.

Jason Clark said Georgetown’s preparations have focused on neutralizing Belmont’s 3-point barrages.

“That’s one thing Coach [John Thompson III] has been stressing all this week at practice is defending the 3-point line, not letting them get 3-point shots,” he said.

Thompson, however, says it’s not that simple.

The Bruins like to run (13th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency ratings) and they’re a great passing team (17.4 assists per game, fifth in the nation). Belmont’s 81.5 ppg makes the Bruins the fourth best scoring offense in America.

All-Atlantic Sun guards Ian Clark, the conference’s defensive player of the year, Drew Hanlen and Johnson anchor Belmont. But Mick Hedgepeth (double-double in conference tourney title game) and Scott Saunders (10.2 ppg, 5.0 rebounds per game) can hurt opponents inside.

“Obviously, they have a terrific shooting team, but at the same time, if you get spaced out, if you start just chasing those shooters, their post players are very good and they’re … a very good passing team," Thompson said. "… Protecting the 3-point line and stopping shooters is important, but they’re much more complex than that.”

But Belmont will need one of its best efforts of the year to upset the Hoyas. The Bruins lost to Duke by a point in their season opener. So they won’t be intimidated.

The Hoyas have shot 46.3 percent from the field, the No. 2 mark in the Big East. Otto Porter and Henry Sims could bully the Bruins inside. Hollis Thompson is dangerous from outside (44.4 percent from beyond the arc) and Jason Clark (13.9 ppg) is a gamer.

This has been a trendy upset pick since the matchup was announced on Selection Sunday. But Georgetown is a team that’s built to control the Bruins.

But the two teams expect a battle.

Both know March Madness heartbreak.

Wisconsin sent Belmont -- a team looking for its first NCAA tournament victory in its fifth appearance -- home early last year.

Georgetown has lost back-to-back opening-round games to lower seeds. The early losses damaged the Hoyas’ postseason reputation and fueled some of this season’s upset predictions.

Sims, however, said the only way to change that is to advance.

“It’s hard for people to forget what happened until you make something different happen,” he said.
You already know the drill: Even without dearly departed Brigham Young, the Mountain West has been the West Coast's best basketball conference all season long, but one notably divided between haves (maybe the better term is "have-talents") like UNLV, San Diego State and New Mexico and the have-nots like Boise State, TCU and Air Force. Colorado State was the league's one true bubble question, but after this week's advance to the MWC semifinals -- where all of the top-four seeds held -- the Rams are in solid tournament shape. When you send half your league to the NCAA tournament, you're doing something right.

On Saturday night, No. 1 seed San Diego State will face No. 2 seed New Mexico in the Mountain West tournament final. Seeds held, but that counts as a bit of a surprise, because UNLV's semifinals loss to UNM Friday night marked the first time the Rebels lost in their home gym -- the Thomas and Mack Center, site of this year's MWC tournament -- all season.

What does this game have in store? Let's briefly break it down:

[+] EnlargeDrew Gordon
AP Photo/Jake SchoellkopfDrew Gordon's interior presence should be a key concern for San Diego State in the Mountain West tourney final.
Can the Aztecs disrupt the Lobos' offense? This game pits the Mountain West's most efficient offense, New Mexico, versus the league's second-most efficient defense in San Diego State. New Mexico's raw efficiency numbers were a bit deceiving, because they racked up two silly games against Air Force, but the point remains: This is a good offense, one of the nation's 35 best (per, and one that thrives on ball movement and efficient shooting. The Lobos tally an assist on 64.5 percent of their possessions this season, the third-highest assist-to-field-goal rate in the country. With the ball flying around the court so rapidly, perhaps it's no surprise New Mexico also has a tendency to turn it over, which it did on 20 percent of its possessions in MWC play, the seventh-worst mark in the conference. San Diego State will have to pressure New Mexico along the perimeter, disrupting that ball movement and perimeter attack.

But it can't afford to lose track of forward Drew Gordon in the paint, either. Gordon's interior presence was a major reason why the Lobos led the conference in offensive rebounding rate this season, and he'll like the matchup he sees Saturday: Per KenPom's effective height metric, New Mexico is one of the 50 tallest teams in the country. San Diego State ranks No. 233. The Aztecs don't force a ton of turnovers on the perimeter in general this season, so they might be better off packing it in and swarming Gordon at every turn.

Can San Diego State force a close game? When you look at the efficiency breakdowns and matchups for these two teams, there are few areas in which SDSU has been notably better than New Mexico this season, particularly on offense. San Diego State was the MWC's fifth-most efficient offense in conference play, and the general impression of this team as a bunch of perimeter-oriented sharpshooters led by Chase Tapley isn't very accurate: SDSU's effective field goal percentage of 48.5 ranked No. 7 in the MWC this season.

If this game is a shootout, SDSU is at a disadvantage. Indeed, its best hope to take down the seemingly (despite the seeds) superior Lobos is to slow the game down, make everything difficult for UNM, and hope Jamaal Franklin -- the MWC player of the year and arguably the most talented player on the floor tonight -- can take over at key moments down the stretch. Franklin's last-second heroics against Boise State got the Aztecs here in the first place. They may need it tonight more than ever.

Whatever happens, we know this: The MWC's three best teams are refreshing to watch. After days of Big East and Big Ten tournament action -- in which teams grind each other into the ground, often preferring strength and physicality and deliberate (read: slow) pace over skill and aesthetic appeal -- flipping to Friday night's UNLV-New Mexico semifinal felt like a breath of fresh air. Fast breaks! Secondary offense! Spread sets! Post players with finesse! What's all this?!

We can only hope for more of the same Saturday. If the season to date is any indication, we'll get it. And we'll get a downright thrilling affair to boot.

SAN DIEGO — Lying just beyond the baseline, where the court at Viejas Arena turns to concrete, San Diego State’s Jamaal Franklin was reeling. He had suffered a “big tweak” in his ankle following a rough out-of-bounds collision.

There would have been no shame if he had hung it up for the day. There was 1 minute, 1 second left in the game and the No. 22 Aztecs had a 67-66 lead over No. 12 UNLV.

Franklin had already given his team 22 points and 10 rebounds -- more than admirable in a game that at times looked more like an MMA scrap than a college basketball game.

“We’re a family,” Franklin said. “If my ankle is broken, and they want me out there, I’m out there.”

And it’s a good thing he was. Because with less than a second left in the game, Franklin -- limping and all -- hit an awkward, leaning 5-foot jumper that sent the crowd of 12,414 into a frenzy and propelled the Aztecs to a 69-67 victory.

Just a minute earlier, those same fans were willing him back to his feet. They erupted when he checked back into the game with 30 seconds left.

[+] EnlargeJamaal Franklin
AP Photo/Gregory BullJamaal Franklin's 24 points included this layup in the waning seconds against UNLV.
“Oh yeah,” Franklin said. “I heard them.”

Leading up to Franklin’s heroics, it was the knock-down, drag-out game that had become typical over the past few years when UNLV and San Diego State get together.

“This was a wonderful college game,” SDSU head coach Steve Fisher said. “Obviously, we are the team smiling today. We have had so many games just like this with UNLV. We have been on the good side as of late. UNLV is a really exceptional team.”

UNLV, which has now dropped six straight to the Aztecs, did everything a team is supposed to do to win on the road: win the rebounding battle, get more points from your bench, commit fewer turnovers. The only thing the Rebels couldn’t do was shoot the ball. Anthony Marshall kept UNLV in the game with 26 points on 8-of-17 shooting. But no other Rebel managed double-digit scoring.

UNLV came into the game with the best scoring average in the conference at 81.3 points per game on 48 percent shooting from the field. The Aztecs didn’t allow UNLV anywhere near that. The Rebs managed just 35 percent from the field, including a measly 28.6 percent in the first half.

The Aztecs shot 43.6 percent on the day, including a solid 48 in the second half. James Rahon provided a big boost with 22 points on 3-of-5 shooting from beyond the arc. But it was the SDSU defense that made the difference.

“We just focused on our defensive schemes,” said San Diego State’s Chase Tapley, who added 11 points and six rebounds. “They are a good pick-and-roll team ... we had to really trust our defense and follow the schemes. We did that Grade-A today.”

It doesn’t get any easier for the Aztecs, who travel to face preseason favorite New Mexico at “The Pit” on Wednesday.

“It’s one of the top wins of my career,” said Tapley, who came into the game leading the conference in scoring. “Two great teams were going at it. They were competitive … we just got the upper hand today. It felt good, it still feels good. We have to take this win and enjoy today, but we’ll be back in the lab on Monday to get focused on New Mexico.”

UNLV, which has lost nine of 10 to the Aztecs, is moving on and looking forward to the Feb. 11 rematch in Vegas.

“The way we look at it, we’re 0-1 in the league and they’ve beaten us one time,” UNLV first-year coach Dave Rice said. “It’s different players, it’s just a situation where they have a good basketball team and they held serve on their home floor. And that’s to their credit.”

Not a rebuilding year for surprising SDSU

December, 5, 2011
Cal coach Mike Montgomery provided some unintended bulletin-board material for San Diego State before the two teams met on Sunday.

From the North County Times.
Earlier in the week, Montgomery offered motivation for the Aztecs to play harder when he said, "It's still a big deal for them to play us, the Pac-12, too."

Montgomery's team was greeted by a raucous student section at the sold out Viejas Arena. One student held a sign that stated "We're kind of a big deal."
Never mind the line from "Anchorman" because San Diego State is a big deal. After beating Cal and previously beating Arizona, the Aztecs have now defeated two ranked Pac-12 teams.

Despite reaching the Sweet 16 in March, it had been uncertain what the Aztecs would look like this season after four starters departed. But the lone returner, Chase Tapley, has stepped forward to lead the team and average 17.2 points. He scored 25 against Cal and hit the free throws to seal the win.

Jamaal Franklin, after serving a suspension for an offseason arrest, has come off the bench to average 15.3 points. LSU transfer Garrett Green, a late offseason pickup, has started every game and leads the team averaging 7.4 rebounds. Washington State transfer Xavier Thames is averaging 12.4 points.

So Montgomery was stating facts when he said of the Aztecs program, "They're really good. They've kind of found a niche in that they get kickbacks. They almost recruit to get guys that are bounce-backs." Thames, one of the transfers Montgomery had noted, told reporters after the game the remarks provided a little bit of motivation and that coach Steve Fisher had talked to the team about them.

But what San Diego State should really be judged on is its 8-2 record and building on its success from a year ago when it very well could have been rebuilding instead.

"We absolutely are (proud)," Fisher said in his postgame radio interview. "I am also realistic enough to know that if you look back at the games, and the closeness of those games, they could have gone (the other way), but they didn't. To our credit, our kids' credit, 8-2 is well deserved and very much hard-fought."

SDSU loses Kawhi Leonard and his recruiter

April, 15, 2011
Kawhi Leonard was a game-changing player in so many ways for San Diego State.

The 6-foot-7 forward averaged a double-double over the course of his two-year Aztecs career and this season helped lead them to an unprecedented Sweet 16 appearance.

Leonard's success also sent a message to future generations of recruits that you can win at San Diego State and achieve your NBA dreams as well. That wasn't nearly as apparent when years ago, the former California Mr. Basketball spurned late advances from larger schools in favor of the Aztecs.

Leonard leaving school for the NBA draft was an expected move that will hurt the Aztecs in the short term as they will be missing four starters from this year's team, including seniors D.J. Gay, Malcolm Thomas and Billy White.

And it will also hurt that Steve Fisher has lost the assistant coach who recruited Leonard to the school. Justin Hutson, the team's recruiting coordinator, has been hired as the associate head coach at Mountain West Conference rival UNLV, giving new Rebels coach Dave Rice a key piece.

"Justin Hutson is as good of a recruiter as there is on the West Coast," Rice told reporters.

San Diego State might not be preseason favorites in the Mountain West, but the program should have enough for a legitimate defense of their regular-season title. The Aztecs return a top defender in Chase Tapley along with sharpshooter James Rahon. They have an emerging guard in Jamaal Franklin and also add potential impact transfers in guard Xavier Thames and forward Kevin Young. Brian Carlwell, the team's 6-foot-11 center, could be back if the senior pursues a medical redshirt.

Leonard's presence boosted the program's profile and raised expectations. It now falls upon a new crop of players to continue what was started, and the lifelong Aztec will be watching.

"I will follow every San Diego State basketball game," Leonard said in a statement. "I will stay in touch with all of the players and coaches and look forward to following their future successes."

Rapid Reaction: UConn 74, San Diego St. 67

March, 24, 2011
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Connecticut’s Kemba Walker tied a school tourney record with 36 points, willing the Huskies to a 74-67 win against No. 2 seed San Diego State that sends them to the Elite Eight. Freshman Jeremy Lamb added 24 points, tying a career high. San Diego State got 16 second-half points from D.J. Gay after he was shut out in the first half. Kawhi Leonard had 12 points and nine rebounds and Malcolm Thomas had 13 points and eight boards, but it wasn’t enough. The Aztecs played in front of a hometown-type crowd, but Walker stole the show and couldn’t be denied. After averaging 30 points in a 5-0 UConn run through the Big East tournament, he's averaging 29 in three NCAA tourney wins.

Turning point: Lamb hit a 3-pointer with 1:39 to play that put Connecticut up 68-64, capitalizing on a second-chance opportunity after Walker’s miss. The shot gave the Huskies breathing room and sufficiently responded to a Gay 3-pointer that had cut the lead to a point.

Key player: Walker was masterful, going 12-for-25 from the field. There was little San Diego State could do to stop him. The Aztecs put Chase Tapley, Billy White and Jamaal Franklin on him, and Walker still managed to take over the game. He hit step-back shots, ran off screens well for open looks and at times seemingly went against the entire defense on his own. He was 4-for-8 from beyond the arc and UConn also shot 50 percent (8-16) as a team.

Key stat: Lamb was 9-for-11 from the field, providing the Huskies with a much-needed second option to Walker. He had two dunks in the final minute to help seal the game, one coming after he stole the ball on a pass from Gay.

Miscellaneous: It didn’t help San Diego State that it picked up two technical fouls. Leonard was whistled for one in the first half that gave him a second personal foul. In the second half, Franklin made contact with Walker after a timeout, and was called for one as well. The Aztecs would later get into foul trouble as Leonard played with four fouls for the final 7:25.

What’s next: UConn, after its first-ever Sweet 16 win over a higher-seeded team, moves on to play the winner of tonight’s Arizona-Duke game for a chance to go to the Final Four for the fourth time.

Aztecs win ugly over Owls in 2OT

March, 19, 2011

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Double-overtime isn't always about great basketball. Winning isn't always pretty. In terms of basketball that often made you want to scratch your eyes out, San Diego State and Temple put on quite a show.

But a "W" is the ultimate measure every time, even more so when not getting it means the season is over. The greatest season in the history of San Diego State basketball is not over after a 71-64 victory that required two extra frames to decide. And Temple's season is. Neither obsessed about aesthetics afterward.

Aztecs coach Steve Fisher began his post-game chat with reporters with a sympathetic message to Temple and its coach -- and his good buddy -- Fran Dunphy: "When you play a game like this and lose, it's so disastrous for awhile mentally that you can't comprehend it unless you are there."

And then he admitted it wasn't "perfect basketball," seeing the teams combine for 41 points in the second half, with both teams shooting under 35 percent from the field. Then he cut to the chase.

[+] EnlargeBilly White
Jennifer Stewart/US PresswireBilly White stepped up for the Aztecs by notching 16 points and 13 rebounds in SDSU's win over Temple.
"We've got a good team. We find different ways to win," he said. "We did that again tonight. And collectively we've won 34 games. So we feel we belong."

San Diego State had the final shot in regulation and in the first overtime, but couldn't convert on neither. Free throw shooting and defense made the difference the the second OT. Kawhi Leonard, who struggled offensively much of the game, made four free throws, grabbed a steal and made the ensuing dunk that sealed the deal. Malcolm Thomas and Billy White both blocked Temple shots in the final minute, with Thomas' block of Lavoy Allen perhaps being the play of the game.

When the final buzzer sounded, sheer exhaustion muted the Aztecs celebration. Chase Tapley, one of four Aztecs who scored in double figures, collapsed to the floor.

"It was just a great game to remember for a memory," Tapley said. "I just had to sit on the floor. I was exhausted. Just playing my heart out."

That goes for both teams.

San Diego State took an 11-point lead in the first half and looked to be establishing the fast pace it wanted. At halftime, when it led 36-31, the Aztecs had a 12-0 advantage in fastbreak points.

But Temple adjusted during halftime, and it controlled the tempo thereafter. San Diego State scored just 18 points after the break, frustrated as Temple mixed in some zone defenses.

"I thought they were a little comfortable in running their man offense," Dunphy said. "They were doing a good job on their high ball screens and we let [point guard D.J.] Gay get into the gaps a little too easy a couple times. So we said let's throw some zone at them and see how they react."

Said Fisher: "Temple did a good job of controlling tempo. That's what they've done all season. They made us guard. They made us guard for long stretches."

Still, the Aztecs looked to be in good shape when they took a seven-point lead at 52-45 with 7:18 left. They scored just one more bucket the rest of the way, though, as the Owls forced the first OT.

In the first overtime, Temple, with a 59-57 lead, watched as Leonard missed the second of two free throws. But Rahlir Jefferson was called for a lane violation. Suffice it to say, Temple fans will be talking about that call.

"I don't really know what I could say," Dunphy said. "Could they have let it go? Yeah. But that's the way it worked. We had to live with it."

Gay admitted that the Aztecs were "out of whack" at times during the game. But he noted, they are advancing to the Sweet 16 and "at the end of the day we came out with the win."

However, when a reporter tried to see poetry in the way San Diego State won -- calling it a team of destiny -- Gay balked.

"I don't think I'm throwing around 'destiny' just yet," he said. "It's kind of like, you know, hard work is paying off. You know, a team -- fruit of its labor."

It was laborious, yes, but it was a win. That is the only reward that matters in the NCAA tournament.

BYU is more than just the Jimmer Show

February, 26, 2011

SAN DIEGO -- BYU has had a history of being hated on the road in the Mountain West, and before that in the WAC, throughout the past 30 years.

Previous Cougar teams have relished playing the role of the villain. But BYU hasn't had a player so talented, so respected -- and at the same time so targeted -- since Danny Ainge.

BYU senior guard Jimmer Fredette embraces that role, scoring 47 at Utah, 42 at Colorado State and 39 at UNLV. But if the Cougars are going to be something special in March, he must produce like he did in Saturday's 80-67 victory at San Diego State.

Fredette had to take 23 shots to score 25 points, but it was his nine assists that set the tone for the Cougars and sent a message to the rest of the country that this team is much more than Fredette.

San Diego State rushed at Fredette plenty, frustrating him at times on the defensive end (he committed four personal fouls), and getting the ball out of his hands. But in focusing on Fredette, the Aztecs neglected to close out on the team's other shooters. BYU's Charles Abouo made four 3-pointers, Jackson Emery converted two, Noah Hartsock three and even seldom-used Stephen Rogers had one.

"I know they can make shots,'' said Fredette, who is likely one of two players who will end the season as an AP All-American after starting the season as a preseason first-team selection (the other is Purdue's JaJuan Johnson).

[+] EnlargeCharles Abouo
Christopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireCharles Abouo knocked down four 3s and finished the afternoon with 18 points and nine rebounds.
"They were double-teaming me to open up shots for my teammates and they are good enough to hit those shots,'' Fredette said.

San Diego State has two losses this season -- both to BYU. Brigham Young has now beaten San Diego State four times in a row, and has won six of the past seven matchups.

When Fredette lit up SDSU for 43 in January, the rest of the Cougars scored 28 points. But Saturday, Fredette scored just 25 of the Cougars' 80 points. BYU shot 14-of-24 on 3s.

"You saw that BYU is more than a one-man show,'' SDSU coach Steve Fisher said. "Fredette creates so many problems that if you give a little extra help that he can help turn a three- or four-point lead into 11 in a heartbeat.''

Fredette must have the confidence in his teammates to make shots. And he does.

"He makes the majority of our big plays, but all the attention he gets means we can be wide open,'' Abouo said. "We have to be ready to hit them. Me, Jackson, Noah and Steve have to get those shots in.''

Emery said he has such a strong relationship with Fredette that he has told him he can kick it out to others. And he has listened.

"It's overlooked how much he can find guys,'' Emery said. "If we don't make shots, it's going to make Jimmer's job a lot harder.''

The Cougars lost to UCLA in Anaheim at the Wooden Classic in December. And they did get tagged by New Mexico at The Pit after beating SDSU in late January. But those are the Cougars' only blemishes. This team has shown it can handle adverse situations.

"I don't know if we thrive on the publicity Jimmer gets, but the rest of the guys do respond well,'' Emery said.

The Cougars handled everything well Saturday, especially in trapping and wreaking havoc on the Aztecs' post players. Malcolm Thomas missed seven shots. Kawhi Leonard missed eight. Both of those guys are bigs. They did miss a combined three 3s, but it wasn't like they had easy looks in the halfcourt. SDSU got out on the break, and James Rahon, D.J. Gay and Chase Tapley hit 3s to keep SDSU in the game.

But San Diego State must find more consistency in the halfcourt to win in March, as well as close out better on 3-point shooting.

While the loss may have cost the Aztecs the MWC title and a possible No. 1 seed in NCAA tournament, they are still in line for a No. 2 seed and will likely open in Tucson.

But the road will get bumpier before the Dance, as SDSU will most likely play third-place UNLV in the MWC semifinals in Las Vegas.

Still, the Aztecs look to be a major factor in March.

"We've got to find a way to deal when struggles happen,'' Fisher said. "We can't succumb to fatigue. We have to tip our hat to BYU and hopefully get another chance to win.

"I think they've got a great chance to be a No. 1 seed if they continue to win,'' Fisher said. "They're a terrific basketball team.''

Fisher believes the Aztecs still have a chance to do something special.

But BYU has the momentum heading into the final week of the regular season. The Cougars finish with New Mexico and Wyoming at home.

The Aztecs put on a show this weekend, and the student section was loud, passionate and created a classic college atmosphere previously unheard of here in San Diego.

But Fredette and BYU prevailed, showing just how much this team has matured. The Cougars appear poised to handle anything March may toss their way.

"This team has a huge heart,'' BYU coach Dave Rose said. "We were the underdog and that doesn't happen too often. They enjoyed that role. You would think we deserve something really good in this [NCAA] tournament. This is a special group. We've won the East Coast, the West Coast and we've got a real special player.''

BYU has conditions for retiring numbers and being an All-American is one of them. Fredette will have his day at the Marriott Center. He will go down as one of the greatest scorers in BYU history. But he can leave an even larger imprint if he continues to distribute the ball the way he did Saturday.

BYU makes statement, topples SDSU

February, 26, 2011
SAN DIEGO -- BYU made sure the selection committee, the voters and the casual fan knows this team is more than capable of going on a deep run in March.

[+] EnlargeJimmer Fredette
AP Photo/Lenny IgnelziBYU guard Jimmer Fredette battles San Diego State's Chase Tapley while driving to the basket in the second half.
And maybe the Cougars should start that run as a No. 1 seed.

BYU beat SDSU 80-67 Saturday at a rocking Viejas Arena for a season sweep of the series, setting itself up for a Mountain West title with two games remaining.

In their last game in San Diego as a member of the MWC before going to the West Coast Conference next season, the Cougars dominated the second half to pull away. The difference? Brigham Young finished 14-of-24 from 3 for the game. You're not going to lose many games shooting that percentage from beyond the arc.

Now BYU has a real chance to be a top seed in the NCAA tournament if it wins the MWC tourney in Las Vegas in two weeks.

As for SDSU, its only two losses this season are to BYU. San Diego State is still in contention for a No. 2 seed. The Aztecs have now lost four straight to BYU, including two in a row at home.

Meanwhile, Jimmer Fredette remains the front-runner for national player of the year as he scored in a variety of ways, finishing with 25 points. But his best contribution came with setting up his teammates for 3s.

Other quick thoughts from the game:

Three cheers for Aztec faithful: San Diego State found a way to wake up a dormant program. The energy inside Viejas Arena was tremendous. Students showed creativity with their costumes and missionary attire. The crowd was jumping throughout the game and during timeouts. I never thought I'd see this here. They have made SDSU a happening place.

The Jimmer Report: Fredette had his usual offering of deep 3s, got to the hole, and while he was off at times and got harassed on the ball, he found ways to help his team by setting up others for deep looks like Jackson Emery. Fredette did have four turnovers, but tied a season-high with nine assists.

BYU is no one-man team: The Cougars did a solid job collapsing inside on the Aztecs in the post, and their defense overall was solid. They did get burned by 3s and fast break run-outs, but the half-court defense was better than advertised.

If BYU is to go deep in the tourney …: Then Emery (13 points) and Charles Abouo (18 points) will have to make shots like they did Saturday. Brandon Davies and Noah Hartsock are so undervalued when discussing this team; both bigs can run and finish. Hartsock missed just one shot against the Aztecs (3-of-4 from 3, 6-of-7 overall).

Unsung hero: The honor goes to Abouo. He continued to make some key 3s to offset any runs by SDSU in the second half.

San Diego State verdict: Kawhi Leonard, Billy White and D.J. Gay just weren't consistent enough. There were flashes from them but never enough consistent production. The contributions from Brian Carlwell inside and Chase Tapley and James Rahon outside helped, but Malcolm Thomas missed too many shots close to the basket.

San Diego State as good as advertised

February, 9, 2011
SAN DIEGO -- The play-by-play couldn’t do it justice.

In the bland vernacular of the stat sheet, it read simply:

Good layup by Gay, D.J.

Miss jumper by Clyburn, Will.

Block by Carlwell, Brian.

Rebound defensive by White, Billy.

Good layup by White, Billy.

In reality, it was wow, oh my, dear Lord, a 12-second offense-to-defense-to-offense assault that left the San Diego State home crowd agog and summarized what the Aztecs are all about.

For the doubters who still believe San Diego State is merely a top-5 team by default, we present Gay to Carlwell to White as your basketball version of Tinkers to Evers to Chance.

BYU may have The Jimmer but the Aztecs have The Team, a roster as complete and built for a long run as any in the country.

Yes the opponent, er victim, of this particular 85-53 assault was Utah, a team in which maybe two guys are old enough to shave (there are 10 freshmen and sophomores on the roster). That, however, doesn’t mean what we saw wasn’t real.

San Diego State is real.

The Aztecs were without starter Chase Tapley (ankle) and sub Tim Shelton (foot) and still played with a fluidity and ease, dishing and dunking like a collegiate version of the Globetrotters.

“That was good, really good,’’ SDSU coach Steve Fisher said. “We were dictating the pace, flow, getting runouts and dunks, making 3-pointers. We were very good. We can’t play that way all the time, but we’re good enough to have stretches like that.’’

We have come to the portion of the schedule in which we start to look for a team’s Achilles' heel, to discover the weakness that will render them weak come NCAA tournament time.

Still searching for that weakness here in Southern California.

In Gay, the Aztecs have a dynamic and contentedly unselfish point guard. White and Malcolm Thomas, with Carlwell off the bench, own the inside and the boards.

James Rahon can’t be left alone behind the arc and Kawhi Leonard is the one ingredient virtually every Final Four team has had of late -- a future NBA lottery pick.

And then there’s the added bonus that this team is built on defense, and actually likes it, in fact. SDSU ranks 11th in the nation in scoring defense and 16th in field-goal percentage defense. In its past six games, the Aztecs are allowing a ridiculously stingy 55 points per game.

Five less and San Diego State would be indulging in curly fry overload.

The student section is awarded free curly fries whenever the Aztecs hold an opponent under 50 points.

“I said, ‘We can’t let them get seven points in seven minutes,’’ Carlwell said. “We have to get them the curly fries. We’ve had games where we held them to 53 and I get home and my boys call me and they’re mad. Unfortunately we couldn’t make it happen this time.’’

The fast-food decadence award might be the only place the Aztecs failed on this night.

SDSU barely survives ... Cal Poly?

December, 14, 2010
If you skipped out on college hoops last night, you deserve forgiveness. It wasn't exactly the most appetizing slate of games, was it? There weren't any quality matchups on the board, and the only Top-25 team playing was San Diego State, who would surely roll over Cal Poly, and good for Happy Gilmo-OH MY GOD.

Get a load of this halftime score: 16-15 Aztecs. Either the scoreboard was only giving half credit, or something went seriously wrong with San Diego State's offense Monday night.

Yes, it was the latter. Kawhi Leonard and Chase Tapley were both too ill to play Monday; they were given IVs before the game but couldn't get on the court. Tapley was in such bad shape he was sent home. Leonard remained on the bench and told coach Steve Fisher he could play, but -- despite temptation late in the hard-fought game -- Fisher held off.

There was also the matter of shooting. Or, you know, lack thereof. The Aztecs shot 18 3-pointers Monday night. They made zero. No, not one. Not two. Zero. Their 3-point field goal percentage, if my math is correct, was -- yep -- 0.0. The Aztecs went 16-of-46 from the field in the game, but if you throw out those 18 missed 3s, that's actually not so bad.

Anyway, San Diego State would eventually, ahem, "pull away," winning 51-45 on the strength of Malcolm Thomas' 18-point, 15-rebound effort. It's hard to imagine a worse way to lose your undefeated record than a 0-for-18 shooting night when two of your players are missing due to illness. Luckily for SDSU, the streak lives on. Barely.

San Diego State's Fisher puts it all together

March, 13, 2010
LAS VEGAS -- When Kawhi Leonard put pen to paper and signed his national letter of intent in November 2008, it was somewhat of a head-scratcher.

San Diego State had just landed California's Mr. Basketball. He went on to become the conference's freshman of the year. Today, you can also call Leonard the Mountain West Conference tournament's MVP, as he led the Aztecs to the NCAAs with a 21-rebound, 16-point performance in a 55-45 win against UNLV.

[+] EnlargeSteve Fisher
AP Photo/Laura RauchLed by Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State coach Steve Fisher has put togehter a championship team.
"He's at San Diego State for this," Aztecs coach Steve Fisher said. "For this. He knew where people would care for him. He knew where we would be true to helping him grow his game, grow him as a person. And he trusted in us.

"We don't have to get on knee pads to recruit against the Pac-10. We don't beat 'em often. But we got a guy that right now they would all love a mulligan to try to get involved with him."

These Aztecs aren't exactly the "Fab Five" Fisher had at Michigan, but somehow on a smaller stage, he's pieced together a championship team with players who needed a second chance.

Leonard stuck with San Diego State when Pac-10 schools didn't seem as interested.

Guard Kelvin Davis, who carried the league trophy into the press conference, transferred out of UTEP, beat Hodkin's lymphoma and then cashed in his sixth year of eligibility with a title.

Center Brian Carlwell got a change of scenery and provided a 297-pound presence in the middle after literally being left for dead by a University of Illinois teammate after a 2007 car crash.

Junior college transfer Malcolm Thomas and freshman Chase Tapley were a part of the recruiting class with Leonard that put the Aztecs over the top.

"I have said to many people that this is a great group of guys to be with. They're respectful. We've had more compliments this year on airplanes and hotels and in airports about that with our kids.

"They respect one another. They trust one another. They have pride in one another. And that wins."

Leonard cleaned up on the glass on UNLV's errant shots and also hit all eight of his second-half free throws to help seal the win. As Fisher said, "Kawhi is Kawhi. Every ball that comes off the board is his."

Fisher and Leonard also made sure to spread around credit for the championship. The scoring came from Billy White. The tough point guard play came from D.J. Gay.

Leonard said he didn't necessarily envision any of this when he first set foot on campus.

"We just set team goals," Leonard said.

San Diego State survives

March, 11, 2010
LAS VEGAS -- The bubble nearly burst for San Diego State, but the Aztecs came away with a 72-71 win against pesky Colorado State in a Mountain West tournament quarterfinal to advance to a date tomorrow with New Mexico.

D.J. Gay's two free throws were the difference, and he said afterward that the Lobos were on his mind.

"This is a game we’ve been asking for, looking forward to," Gay said. "We just wanted to play tomorrow. We didn’t want to come out here for one day."

The Rams did give the Aztecs a scare. CSU had the ball for a final possession, but freshman Dorian Green's pass went out of bounds.

San Diego State then watched a desperation 3-point attempt miss at the buzzer after Chase Tapley missed the front end of a one-and-one.

Tapley, Malcolm Thomas and Billy White each scored 15 for the No. 4-seeded Aztecs as they improved to 23-8.

"This is the only tournament we can be in right now," San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said. "We came here to win three games."

Adam Nigon scored 18 for CSU, which lost starting forward Andy Ogide after he was ejected in the first half for appearing to throw an elbow that knocked down Brian Carlwell.

Coach Tim Miles said he apologized to Fisher after the game for the incident.

The Rams had a 53-49 second-half lead before the Aztecs went on a 9-0 run to regain momentum.

But a close call it was against CSU, which fell to 16-15.

Halftime: San Diego State 41, Colorado State 33

March, 11, 2010
LAS VEGAS -- Some halftime observations.

  • Colorado State forward Andy Ogide was ejected and assessed a flagrant intentional technical foul after collecting a rebound and using a forearm to shove off San Diego State's Brian Carlwell. Carlwell was knocked down on the play and had to be restrained by teammates from going after Ogide. The technical foul and ejection was announced after officials reviewed video of the play.
  • San Diego State forward Billy White continues to be hobbled by a left ankle sprain and, at one point, he sat on the end of the court after aggravating it and checking out of the game. The Aztecs would like to get White healthy, but at a tournament like this one, there's not much time for rest.
  • The Rams are in the game because they're shooting 55.6 percent from the field. Defensively, they're frustrating the Aztecs with some hard fouls. San Diego State had 15 free-throw attempts against three for CSU.
  • Chase Tapley leads all scorers with 15 points for San Diego State, coming off the bench to go 6 of 7 from the field. Adam Nigon has 10 for CSU.