SDSU Has Too Few Too Late in Loss : Injury, Illness, Fouls at Hawaii Lead to Fifth Defeat in a Row
When San Diego State basketball Coach Jim Brandenburg looked down the bench, there sat four of his starters and two leading reserves.
And when he looked on the court, there was his team--including two walk-ons--standing tall, with a chance to win a Western Athletic Conference game on the road of all places.
The illusion ended 13 seconds too soon Thursday night when the Aztecs, powerless to do otherwise, finally succumbed to the University of Hawaii, 65-62.
Two free throws by Hawaii’s Vincent Smalls with 13 seconds left and an unsuccessful, off-balance 3-point attempt by SDSU’s Kevin Honaker with 3 seconds remaining sealed the Aztecs’ fifth consecutive loss, their longest losing streak in Brandenburg’s 2-year tenure at San Diego State.
SDSU, which has lost 21 of the past 22 WAC games on the road, is 8-9 and 2-5 in the conference entering Monday’s game with Wyoming at the Sports Arena. Hawaii, which won consecutive WAC games for the first time since 1985, is 11-7 and 4-3.
“It was a strange game, very strange,” Brandenburg said. “I’d like to have a whole ballclub and play that over.”
Said Hawaii Coach Riley Wallace: “When they are well and playing together, they’ve got as good a (starting) five as anybody.”
Instead, as SDSU center Mitch McMullen remembered, it brought back memories of last season, “when we didn’t have much depth, either.”
This one began to unravel not long after the Aztecs landed. Tony Ross, their sixth man, sprained an ankle during practice Wednesday and was unavailable, joining another guard, Rodney Jones, who sprained an ankle a week ago, on the injured list.
McMullen, the leading scorer at 15.8 points a game, got all his seven points early in the first half before aggravating a bruised Achilles tendon. He fouled out with 2:33 left.
Guard Bryan Williams fouled out with 59 seconds left, and and forward Sam Johnson followed with 13 seconds remaining. The Aztecs were whistled for 22 fouls to Hawaii’s 14.
But the worst luck award went to guard Michael Best, who had been the leading scorer in three of the previous four games. He started this one well enough with 14 first-half points but sustained severe cramps apparently brought on by dehydration and did not score in the second half. He sat out 8 of the last 12 minutes, including the final 3:04.
Best said: “My calves started cramping in the second half. The trainer told me to drink some water but when I did, I almost vomited. Then I started getting cramps in my rib cage.
“I even felt it here (on the inside of the arm) and when that happened I said, ‘It must not be my night.’ ”
Said Brandenburg: “We got ourselves in real trouble when we started having problems physically. We really felt the crunch. I hoped they could work through it, but it was just too much.”
Until then, it had been all Aztecs. Shaking off the horrendous starts of recent games, SDSU went ahead, 3-2, and led the rest of the way to a 37-33 halftime edge.
Hawaii cut the lead to 46-45 shortly after Best limped off the first time with 12:45 left and took the lead, 47-46, soon after.
When Best left for good at 3:04, SDSU was down, 55-54. McMullen exited at 2:33, and Hawaii moved out to its biggest lead, 61-56, with 1:14 left.
The Aztecs, who had been held without a field goal for 4:38, closed to within 61-60 with 35 seconds left after Eeric White and Honaker, a walk-on, hit 3-point baskets.
But Johnson fouled out with 13 seconds remaining, and Smalls hit both free throws for a 65-62 lead.
Honaker misfired on a second 3-point try and David Hallums, who had squeezed through a double screen to guard Honaker, ran down the rebound and held on until time expired.