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BYU series of old fuels Aztecs' wild 90-81 victory

SDRay

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https://www.sandiegouniontribune.co...e-miller/sd-sp-miller-byu-20181223-story.html

When BYU jogged onto the Viejas Arena court Saturday, still blue, still hated, still firing at will, the Aztecs climbed into a time machine.

The whole of it transported the teams and 11,321 in attendance to the heady and heated days of Jimmer and Kawhi, to the echoes of huge runs and scorched lungs, to a rivalry where manners are benched for good old-fashioned mayhem.

The scoreboard said 90-81 Aztecs. Everything else screamed black-and-blue nostalgia.

“It felt like old times in the building today,” Aztecs coach Brian Dutcher said. “The atmosphere was incredible.”

A ghost from the past, mothballed since a wild Maui Invitational meeting four years ago, dipped into its spicy heyday. Was this what the Aztecs needed? Was this that dose of magic elixir for a team lacking spunk and spark in recent back-to-back losses to USD and Cal?

For 40 minutes, the foul odor of hesitancy and self-doubt drifted into the ether.

The Aztecs, the program that couldn’t shoot straight, entered the game 11th in the country in 3-point percentage. They drilled their first five against the Cougars. When the lead ballooned to 33-16, the Aztecs had been crisper from 3 (77.8 percent) than overall (68.8).

This was so far from a one-note symphony, though.

A little more than midway through the opening half, normally precise BYU already had 10 turnovers. At one point, the Aztecs built a stunning 18-0 advantage in points off turnovers.

Not a misprint: 18-0.

“We turned the ball over so many times early,” Cougars coach Dave Rose said. “That led to wide-open 3s, which got us in a hole. After we kind of settled down a little bit in the second half, I thought we played much better. But they had a great plan. Dutch did a terrific job of taking the O out of the offense.

“Defensively, they did a really good job of covering our other guys. I don’t know if we've had another game where we turned it over 18 times.”

Refreshingly, this was the Aztecs and Cougars of old. No holds barred. No quarter given. Not even religion proves off limits.

The Show, the Aztecs student section, upped its sign game for an old rival. There was a well-worn classic with a twist, “Hi Mom(s) … send soda $.” They tossed in, “Win or lose you still live in Provo” and “Beer me … oh wait.” The return of Nick Emery, a guard suspended nine games for accepting benefits from boosters, sparked “Nick Emery, the Crook of Mormon.”

At one point, someone in the student section barked at BYU guard T.J. Haws as the arena quieted for a free throw: “How does your body support that head?”

Remember that this is BYU, the only team in the country that suits up AARP members. See? Even I’m doing it. Points and taunts galore.

“I told the players before the game, the fans know more about this rivalry than you do,” Dutcher said. “Because they’ve been here to sit through it, our longtime, dedicated fans.

“I said, ‘You have to know this is a rivalry. I’m telling you it is.’ ”

They Aztecs shot like they understood.

With the game 12-9 Aztecs, senior guard Devin Watson buried a 3 as BYU’s Zac Seljaas was whistled for a ball under the basket. Off the inbounds, the ball ended up in Watson’s hands again for another 3.

Two seconds of game clock, six points — and an 18-9 lead.

Watson explained what the second long-range shot foreshadowed, when he claimed he did not see the rim as he shot over 6-foot-8 Yoeli Childs.

“I hit the last one, so that one had to go up,” said Watson, with a knowing smile, after finishing with game highs of 23 points and eight assists. “Yeah, it was a heat check.”

Temperature measurements hardly were limited to Watson.

In a stretch of less than two minutes of the first half, sophomore forward Matt Mitchell converted a twisting, turning baseline drive to go with a scooping layup and no-doubt 3 to make it 28-11.

As the shell-shocked Cougars, who trailed by as many as 20, clawed back in the second half, guard Jordan Shakel drilled a 3 just 51 seconds before pouring in another as he double-pumped a defender just before the shot clock expired.

Credit BYU, some dusted-off history and a packed gym for reigniting things.

“Playing against BYU is a fun game,” Watson said. “Their play style, they like to run and gun and shoot the ball. They don’t care what the circumstance is.”

Meanwhile, the Aztecs made some history of their own.

The win snapped a three-game losing streak to the Cougars at Viejas, which was the longest active streak in the building. The victory was the first against BYU at Viejas since Feb. 23, 2008. And you had to go back to 2000 to find the last time San Diego State scored at least 90 points in back-to-back games.

So, was this a beginning? Or a one-game blip?

That remains to be seen.

“We’re slowly putting a team together,” Dutcher said. “It might take all year to get where you want to be. We made a step forward.”

A step forward, by stepping back in time.
 

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