Three thoughts on the Aztecs’ 87-77 win over Wyoming on Wednesday:
1. Narain’s breakout game
Brian Dutcher says it’s the No. 1 question he gets as he travels around town.
“Why isn’t Nolan Narain playing more?”
Those are hard-core San Diego State basketball fans asking, to be sure. Because, only two days ago, Narain was a lightly used sophomore who hadn’t played more than a handful of minutes in sporadic duty.
The 6-foot-10 forward/center, a former 4-star recruit from Canada, was averaging 2.4 points per outing and had scored a total of 12 points in 12 Mountain West Conference games.
Then Wednesday and Wyoming happened.
Narain scored 18 points in 18 minutes in an 87-77 win over Wyoming, and maybe it’s Dutcher who might be asking himself why he hadn’t played Narain more.
“We knew we were going to use Nolan because he was practicing great,” Dutcher said after the game. “So he’s earned his minutes, and if he continues to work hard in practice and shows those kind of minutes in the games, he’ll continue to grow those game minutes.”
Asked what his answer has been for Narain devotees, Dutcher grinned and said, “No comment.”
He was joking. Dutcher said that Narain had to earn his way to the floor through practice.
Narain had been troubled by illness in the preseason. After getting decent minutes in eight of the first 10 games, he sat out five of the next six with the label of CD — “coach’s decision.” He played in five more games, was benched with another CD, and suffered a shoulder injury in practice that kept him out in a home win over Air Force.
“Sometimes,” Dutcher said, “fate meets circumstance,” and in this case, Narain had practiced well and the coach needed him and others in a heavy rotation as SDSU worked to get back to defend quickly against Wyoming’s fast-moving offense.
Narain entered the game for freshman Jalen McDaniels with 14 minutes left in the first half and scored on a layup 15 seconds later. Over three minutes in his first shift, Narain scored five points and got a rebound on each end.
Toward the end of the half, he scored on consecutive possessions, including knocking down his second 3-pointer of the season as the Aztecs got out to a 50-29 lead.
In the second half, Narain got a good, long shift of 7½ minutes and scored four points and had two rebounds. At one point, he missed a jumper, grabbed his own rebound, and put the ball back for a score.
In all, Narain was 8 of 10 from the floor, scoring two layups, five close-range jumpers and one 3.
“I feel like if I play the way I’m supposed to play, and fulfill my role, then I’ll be scoring like this pretty much every game,” Narain said.
Narain has the potential to give the Aztecs a versatile center for the first time in a while.
“Nolan is a true center,” Dutcher said. “He really rolls to the basket aggressively, and his hands are up. You saw some really quality post moves from him. If he doesn’t draw a double team, he can score in there.”
Dutcher explained that Narain doesn’t retreat under the basket on defense, but gives his teammates early help.
“The other two bigs (McDaniels and Kameron Rooks) aren’t as good with penetration,” Dutcher said. “Nolan isn’t afraid to come over and take a charge, and that’s very valuable to the team.”
In all, it was a night that showed the promise of what the Aztecs can be with more experience. Underclassmen contributed 50 of SDSU’s points, and that was with freshman Matt Mitchell having a relative off night with only two.
True freshman Jordan Schakel had his best game with 18 points (on 5-of-6 shooting), and McDaniels had 16.
2. Pope reaches milestone
In a season that’s had its share of frustration and disappointment for senior forward Malik Pope, it was an awfully satisfying 1 minute, 24 seconds.
At the end of Wednesday’s victory, Pope was fouled and went to the free-throw line with more on his mind than padding the lead. By making his two shots, Pope got to 10 points for the game and landed exactly on 1,000 points for his career.
Seconds later, Pope produced an emphatic block that had the SDSU crowd roaring, and after another Wyoming shot, he muscled in for a defensive rebound that gave him a team-best nine for the game.
“The thing I love about Malik is that he always plays unselfishly,” Dutcher said. “He shares the ball. He shoots when he should, passes when he should, and rebounds at a high level.
“I’m really proud of Malik reaching the 1,000-point club.”
Pope is the 33rd Aztecs player to achieve the milestone.
Where’s “The Show?”
The city’s bandwagon colors are showing again.
Before the Wyoming game, SDSU’s 5-7 conference record reflected its worst mark at that juncture in a season since 2003-04. And the pain of that has been extended to the Aztecs’ gate.
Wednesday’s crowd was announced at 10,494, but it appeared to be significantly fewer than that, with clusters of empty seats — not just in the upper reaches, but all around the arena.
Nowhere are the no-shows more obvious than in the student section once occupied by “The Show.” We say once, because a few holdouts dressed in costume and a couple of signs hardly constitute a show.
A raucous section that once was packed from floor to upper concourse — over which a massive flag was unfurled before games – now could be covered by a couple of large beach towels. Generously, there were fewer than 10 rows occupied by “Show” members against Wyoming.
The Union-Tribune reported in August that two out of three student tickets last season went unused in the 2,500-seat student section. The average student attendance a year ago was 757, and Wednesday’s support had to be several hundred under that.
Yes, it was a struggling team … hosting Wyoming … at 8 p.m. … in a game that was televised. But it doesn’t say a lot for what’s left of “The Show’s” dedication.
“The Show” still has a Twitter account, though it’s peppered with obnoxious vulgarities. And as for its blog, the most recent post rips Union-Tribune Aztecs beat writer Mark Zeigler for suggesting the student section could be reduced in size.
Date of the blog: March 1, 2017.
A yearlong no-show.
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