San Diego State has some fine athletes. Several can run. Many can jump. A couple are defensive whizzes.
But being that you need to make baskets to win a basket ball game, the Aztecs fell short again Thursday night.
This time, SDSU was eclipsed by Yale, 69-62, before 2,110 at the San Diego Sports Arena.
The atmosphere, from the play on the court to the empty seats in the stands, was about like the aftermath of a New Year's Eve party. Scattered memories of good times past, but not a lot promise for the foreseeable future.
The Aztecs (2-9) are off to their worst start since 1986-87--Smokey Gaines' last season--when they started 2-23 on their way to a 5-25 season. Their shooting percentage is down, their record is down, their morale is down, and Tony Clark's back is getting worse.
SDSU entered the game shooting a paltry 42.9% from the field, and Yale held the Aztecs to 42.3% (22 of 52). Center Joe McNaull scored 18 points, but starting guards Virgil Smith and Ray Barefield combined for two points and were one for eight from the field.
Only freshman Robert Ringo, who finished with 17 points, was effective.
And as the losses mount, the frustrations are building. Several players said afterward that the Aztecs need more play out of their guards, but also acknowledged that the guards do not have much freedom in SDSU's pass-first, shoot-later scheme.
"As a player, I'm running what I'm told to run," forward Courtie Miller said. "We have some guys on our team who can penetrate--Ray, Virgil--and I think they're going to have to take it upon themselves to penetrate more. That's what they're best at."
Said Barefield: "It's not up to me what we run. All I can do is what I'm asked.
"It's unfortunate it seems (that the guards are not productive). All I'm doing is what I'm asked."
When someone asked if he thought that, at 2-9, it was time to try something different, Barefield paused and then said, "Yes."
With the start of the Western Athletic Conference season still a week away and the Aztecs reeling, even the more productive players are beginning to second-guess SDSU's system.
"If my scoring 18 points is losing us games, I don't want to score," McNaull said. "I just want to win. I don't know. . . ."
Coach Jim Brandenburg, meanwhile, pointed out that the Aztecs had only one day to prepare for Yale after returning from a trip.
As for Clark, who scored only seven points in 22 minutes, his post-operative back has gotten bad enough that he hopes to visit the doctor sometime today for another round of pain-killing injections.
Yale (8-2) is off to its best start in 46 years. The Bulldogs were third in the nation last season in scoring defense--allowing only 61 points per game--and are only yielding 62 a game this season.
For the Aztecs, a team without much offense to begin with, playing a sticky defense such as Yale's is about like trying to find a light switch in a dark room.
They spent plenty of time searching. They got off 13 more shots than much-smaller Yale, but the Bulldogs were 52% (11 of 21) from three-point range.
After Yale took a 12-10 lead with 11:14 left in the first half, the Bulldogs never trailed. They led at halftime, 31-26, and took their largest lead, 46-30, with 15:49 left in the game.
The turning point came early. Yale switched from a man-to-man defense to a two-three matchup zone with 14:34 remaining in the half, and SDSU looked like a guy who spoke only English attempting translate French.