San Diego State Coach Jim Brandenburg saw this game coming 48 hours away.
One look at the scoreboard after a five-point loss to Villanova Thursday night, and a glance ahead to his team’s next opponent, warned him what to expect Saturday night.
There was a way, he concluded, that his team would be raring to play Central Connecticut State in front of the customary sparse crowd at the San Diego Sports Arena.
And while his concern was justified, the Aztecs did manage to win, 70-60, in the kind of game he would just as soon forget.
“This game had the potential for a night when we’re not going to be at our sharpest,” Brandenburg said. “We couldn’t get ourselves ready to come back and play with any kind of intensity.”
The victory allowed the Aztecs to complete the first six weeks of the season 8-5, the most victories before the turn of the year in three seasons under Brandenburg.
“I figured 9-4 would be the optimum for us,” Brandenburg said. “That would have been as good as we could do.”
Actually, November and December traditionally have been good to Brandenburg and the Aztecs. They were 7-5 in his first season of 1987-88 and 6-4 last season for a three-year pre-January record of 21-14.
THe other months have not been as kind. SDSU is 11-25 in January, February and the few days of March that the Aztecs have had a chance to compete the past two years.
The difference, of course, is the start of Western Athletic Conference play. The Aztecs were 9-25 against WAC teams in Brandenburg’s first two seasons. They begin No. 3 Thursday in the Sports Arena against Utah.
The WAC is not rated among the stronger leagues in the country this season but even at its worst ranks above the likes of Chaminade, UC Riverside, Niagara, which represented three of the Aztecs’ early victories this year.
But Central Connecticut State’s Blue Devils might have been the easiest mark. An independent in only its fourth season of Division I play, Central Connecticut State was coming off a 24-point loss at USC, a team the Aztecs defeated by six. The loss was the Blue Devils’ sixth in a row and eighth in nine games. Their three-game West Coast swing concludes Wednesday night against U.S. International at Golden Hall.
The listlessness spread from the court to the stands. The crowd of 1,990 was the third smallest of the season. Even the customary ROTC honor guard for the national anthem stayed away.
But as uninspired as the crowd might have been, it was at least matched by the play of some of the leading Aztecs.
Junior forward Shawn Jamison, their leading scorer and rebounder, finished with eight points and three rebounds, half his season averages. Senior guard Michael Best, the team’s second-leading scorer, had 12 points and eight assists but made six turnovers and only one of four three-point attempts.
That left it to some of the less visible members of the team to make up much of the difference. Primary among them was junior forward Vernon Thompson, who had career highs of 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Thompson, a transfer from Skyline Community College in San Bruno, had never been in double figures in either category in his previous 11 games as an Aztec, with highs of nine points and six rebounds.
“We came out flat,” Thompson said. “But I just tried to play as hard as I could.”
Aside from Thompson, the Aztecs offered little else. They led, 39-26, at the half, matching their widest such lead of the season but never put the Blue Devils away in the second half.
Central Connecticut State was as close as eight points at 50-42 with 7:41 to play and never trailed by more than 14 in the second half.
“I hate basket-trade games,” Brandenburg said. “That is what we did. We got a lead, then traded baskets.”
San Diego State junior guard Michael Hudson sat out the game because of the flu, Coach Jim Brandenburg said.