Aztecs Blitz Bears in 20-point Victory

Photo: #31 Emerson Murray dribbles past Aztec defender.
Jeff Totten/Photo
#31 Emerson Murray dribbles past Aztec defender.

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Not known for having fans in any sports, San Diego State fans bellowed "Let's Go Aztecs!" as time wound down at Haas Pavilion on Wednesday night. After scoring 49 second-half points on an astonishing 71-percent shooting in the second half, the Aztecs gave their unusually large contingent of supporters plenty of reason to cheer on a team that is quickly garnering attention as one of the best on the West Coast.

Despite shooting only 31-percent in the first half, the No. 14 Aztecs (9-0) caught absolute fire in the second half, scoring inside, outside and in transition to defeat Cal (5-3) 77-57 on Wednesday night at Haas Pavilion. Head coach Steve Fisher's squad had four players in double figures, led by 20 points from sophomore Kawhi Leonard. Senior point guard D.J. Gay and reserve gunner James Rahon had huge nights as well, knocking down seven three-pointers between the two of them and combining for 29 total points. Gay scored all of his 14 points in the second half.

"They've got some guys that can really play," Montgomery said. "Ironically, we really focused on their three bigs as far as block-offs, but Leonard, Gay and Rahon were the guys that really hurt us. They made big shots, tough shots and late clock shots that really hurt us."

Jorge Gutierrez led the Bears with 19 points. Harper Kamp pitched in 18 points and six rebounds.

"I don't think it's disappointing because I think we'll learn from it," Gutierrez said. "It's a loss and we've got to move on."

Despite an admirable defensive effort in the beginning, Cal just could not keep up with the extremely athletic Aztecs in the second half. A 15-2 run opened up the Aztecs' 43-42 lead to 58-44 and San Diego State didn't slow down. The Aztecs spread the Bears' defense out with several transition buckets, something Montgomery emphasized in the post-game.

"The mistakes that we made turned out to be glaring," Montgomery said. "It gets to be pretty difficult when the ball is thrown over the top of you for layups on the break. It's one thing to miss a shot, but when they lead to run-outs and dunks it just doesn't work. I don't really get that. It's basic basketball 1-A that you have to get back and protect your basket. We were standing a little bit."

Despite sitting the majority of the first half because of foul trouble, Leonard lived up to the all the preseason hype that he has built, having been named to the Naismith Award and Wooden Award watch list. The Riverside, Calif., native finished eight of 14 from the floor and three of six from beyond the arc and added two blocks.

"Leonard is clearly one of the best players on the West Coast," Montgomery said. "He's a pro."

Despite a first half of poor shooting, the Bears trailed by only two at the half with solid interior defense and winning the battle of the boards. Cal shot an atrocious 24% from the field and were 0-5 from the perimeter. The Bears would finish 0-9 from three-point range for the game.

"We were standing a little too much and not working to get open," Kamp said. "I was having a hard time helping the guards getting open to help them execute. I can definitely do better."

The Aztecs resilient defense drew praise from Fisher.

"It was a good, important victory for us against a team that plays tough, is expertly coached, and is hard with the set plays that they run," Fisher said. "I thought in the second half our defense created our offense. It allowed us to do what we have done in several games to get a spurt or two and break open a close game."

The Bears played strong defense in the first half, but were burned by a 9-1 run orchestrated solely by Rahon. After the Bears jumped out to an early 14-9 lead, the Santa Clara transfer fulfilled his reputation as a gunner, cleanly swishing two threes from the left side of the perimeter and then knocking one down from the top of the key all in the span of 3:10.

"We were playing really good defense in the first half," Montgomery said. "We were engaged and our big men were really focused. They just found the open guy that we didn't cover very well."

Gutierrez, Kamp and Sanders-Frison all had fine nights, the Aztecs and their mostly veteran roster overwhelmed Cal in the second half. Of Cal's freshmen, only Allen Crabbe had any significant contributions.

"(The freshmen) have to learn from it," Kamp said. "They've got to keep trying but I'm proud to play with guys that are playing hard even when times are hard."

Cal returns to Haas Pavilion on Sunday to face off with Southern Mississippi at 2 p.m.

Tags: CAL MEN'S BASKETBALL, JORGE GUTIERREZ, MARKHURI SANDERS-FRISON, ALLEN CRABBE, MIKE MONTGOMERY


Gabriel Baumgaertner covers men's basketball. Contact him at [email protected]



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