SDSU Plays Well Early but Can't Keep Up With BYU in 92-65 Defeat

Times Staff Writer

When there are more people wearing coats and ties on your bench than singlets and shorts, you know you're in for a tiring night.

That was the inevitable situation the San Diego State basketball team faced Saturday at undefeated Brigham Young.

The Aztecs dressed nine players. When it came time for the pregame introductions, there were only four guys to slap high fives.

"I haven't played that much in my life," a tired Ty Walker said. "Toward the end, I just lost my concentration."

So overmatched and undermanned were the Aztecs, it was no surprise that they lost to the Cougars, 92-65, in front of a crowd of 20,536 at the Marriott Center.

The victory was BYU's 11th of the season and second in Western Athletic Conference play. The Cougars are one of three unbeaten teams left in the country, with Oklahoma and Temple.

For the Aztecs, it was their second 27-point loss in their first two WAC games and dropped their overall record to 6-7. Their task was made more difficult Saturday night by the absence of point guard Bryan Williams and forward Juan Espinoza.

Williams was in St. Louis visiting his seriously ill grandmother, and Espinoza had returned to San Diego to undergo an examination of his sore back.

That left SDSU Coach Jim Brandenburg little option but to play his starters for most of the game. Walker joined guard Tony Ross and forwards Rodney Hawkins and Sam Johnson as one of four Aztec starters to play at least 37 minutes.

"The only thing I can compare it to was running the 440 in high school," said Walker, who was averaging 16 minutes per game. "I've never been that tired."

The only exception to the long duty was center Mitch McMullen. But his short appearance was not of his choosing.

McMullen scored a team-high 14 points in 15 minutes, but he spent most of the game on the bench in foul trouble before he was disqualified after his fifth personal with 8:33 to play. He scored all his points in the first 4 1/2 minutes of the first half and the first 1 1/2 minutes of the second on a series of low-post moves.

Asked how he can control McMullen's propensity to foul, Brandenburg jokingly replied: "Tape his hands to his side."

Brandenburg also said he was unhappy with what he perceived to be uncalled BYU fouls. He spent much of the game yelling at officials David Hall and Louis Fuentes to stop the BYU players from hand checking the Aztecs.

It was the Cougars' pressure defense that eventually wore down the Aztecs, forcing them into 20 turnovers.

"That was as well as we've played this year," BYU Coach Ladell Andersen said. "And that might be as well as San Diego State can play."

About the only way the Aztecs had any chance against the Cougars was to play a near-perfect game. And for the opening five minutes of the game, that was exactly what the Aztecs did.

They made all six of their shots from the field, were perfect on five free-throw attempts, did not make a turnover and led, 17-13.

McMullen, making his first start in six games, had 10 of those points, including two three-point plays.

But BYU was playing almost as well. The Cougars crawled back into a 21-21 tie with 11:57 left in the half. The Cougars had three chances to go ahead for the first time before Michael Smith scored on a layup with 10:01 to play in the half after a defensive mixup by the Aztecs.

Until then, Smith, BYU's leading scorer at 23.4 points per game, had been held to just one shot--a three-point goal for BYU's first points--by Hawkins' man-to-man defense.

The tie-breaking layup began a 10-0 BYU streak that gave the Cougars a 31-21 lead. SDSU went 5:15 without a basket, turning the ball over five times, before Ross made a three-pointer to break the drought with 7:38 left in the half.

The Aztecs then began their last rally, outscoring the Cougars, 12-2, to pull back into a 33-33 tie with 4:58 remaining.

But center Jim Usevitch scored on a layup nine seconds later, and the Cougars took the lead for good. BYU led, 46-37, at the half after a three-point shot by Ross from just inside midcourt was ruled after the buzzer.

SDSU did come as close as 62-53 with 12:53 to play, but Smith finally broke loose, finishing with 20 points.

After shooting 65% (13 of 20) in the first half, the Aztecs shot 44% (11 of 25) in the second.

Aztec Notes

An examination of Juan Espinoza showed no neurological or other damage to his back, said Brian Barry, associate trainer. Barry said Espinoza could return to practice early this week. Espinoza returned to San Diego Friday for further examination after suffering spasms during the Aztecs' 83-56 loss at Utah Thursday.

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