A couple of West Coast rivals meet in the season opener for both teams as the San Diego State Aztecs host the mighty UCLA Bruins Wednesday on the hardwoods. The game is part of a four-team tournament at San Diego State that also features UC Irvine and Pepperdine. These two teams haven't met since 2012 when they Aztecs won 79-68. The 22nd ranked Bruins are favored here but the Aztecs play tough and are usually one of the best defensive teams in the nation. Can the Aztecs pull off the upset in the season opener?
UCLA predicted to win Pac-12In coach Mick Cronin's first season at UCLA, the Bruins got off to a rocky start. But then things started clicking and the Bruins finished with a record of 19-12 and 12-6 in the Pac-12, which was good for second place. This year, many expect the Bruins to make the leap and win the Pac-12 conference. It's no surprise expectations are high, considering that their five top scorers are all back from last year and they added some key new faces.
The only major departure from last year's team was Prince Ali, but he was not among the team's top five scorers. The Bruins will be led this year by guard Chris Smith, who was named to the preseason all Pac-12 team. Smith, a 6'9" guard averaged 13 points and 5 rebounds per game. He'll be joined in the backcourt by Jaime Jaquez, who averaged 9 points and 5 rebounds last year. The front court will be anchored by forwards Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, who both average 9 points per game. Hill averaged a team high 7 rebounds per game last year. The likely fifth starter is guard Tyger Campbell, who averaged 8 points per game last year. Johnny Juzang, a transfer from Kentucky, will also see a lot of minutes as will star recruitJaylen Clark.
San Diego State has big holes to fillThe San Diego State Aztecs are coming off a magical season where they finished 30-2 and won the Mountain West Conference. they were a top 10 team in the nation and were poised to make a run for the Final Four. But then the pandemic hit and the season was cancelled and the magical season came to a screeching halt. One of the best seasons in school history would ultimately end without the ultimate goal of reaching the Final Four.
Now, the Aztecs head into the 2020-21 season without their best player, all-American Malachi Flynn, who averaged 17 points, 4 rebounds and 5 assists per game. They also lost their third leading scorer and top rebounder Yanni Wetzell, who averaged 11 points and 6 rebounds per game, as well as fifth leading scorer KJ Feagin, who averaged 9 points per game.
That's three starters that the Aztecs will have to replace. That will be no simple task but they will rely heavily on returning starters Matt Mitchell and Jordan Schakel. Mitchell averaged 12 points per game last year and was named first-team all-conference last year. He was named preseason all-conference this season. Schakel averaged 10 points per game. The other starter roles will likely be filled by forward Nathan Mensah and guards Trey Pulliam and Terrell Gomez. The Aztecs always play good defense. Last year they gave up just 59 points per game, which was third in the nation.
Stats & Trends
- Bruins are 5-0-1 ATS in their last 6 games overall.
- Bruins are 4-0 ATS in their last 4 road games.
- Aztecs are 1-4 ATS in their last 5 home games.
Take the Bruins here giving up the points. San Diego State has a home game to open the season, but without a crowd in attendance, it won't feel like much of one. On the court, the Aztecs will have their hands full with UCLA and its size. They have a big front line and even their guards are big. San Diego State is always one of the best defensive teams in the league and will likely keep it close, but they don't have enough of an answer inside to hold the Bruins at bay. UCLA should dominate the paint and that's where they'll win it. The Aztecs will not be as cohesive as the Bruins out5 of the gate, with three new starters. Meanwhile, the Bruins have five starters back and should hit the ground running.