The formula for a San Diego State loss this season has always been either a Xavier Thames cold spell short-circuiting the one-dimensional offense or an opponent's precision offense exposing cracks in the Aztecs' vaunted defense.
In Tuesday's 68-62 loss at Wyoming, both of those happened to fifth-ranked San Diego State on the same night.
Unable to attack via the pick and roll or find his rhythm from behind the arc against Wyoming's zone defense, Thames didn't sink his first shot until 29 minutes into the game and finished 3 of 15 from the floor and 0-for-7 from 3-point range. Dwayne Polee Jr. and J.J. O'Brien had some nice moments to pick up the slack, but the Aztecs still shot under 40 percent from the field as a team.
Elite offensive rebounding and fearsome defense has helped San Diego State overcome ice-cold shooting nights in the past, but while the Aztecs gobbled up 21 offensive boards on Tuesday, they could not stop Wyoming consistently enough. Crisp passing and ball movement by the glacial-paced Cowboys and help defense breakdowns by San Diego State led to a flurry of Wyoming layups and dunks.
Those issues prevented San Diego State (21-2, 10-1) from extending its 20-game win streak or remaining perfect in Mountain West play. The Aztecs still lead the Mountain West by a half game over New Mexico, but the two contenders will probably determine the league title head-to-head during their two meetings in the next four weeks.
This loss will be viewed as a major upset because San Diego State has been a fixture in the top 10 since defeated Creighton, Marquette and Kansas in non-league play, but the truth is it wasn't a huge surprise.
Not only is a defense-first team that plays mostly close games susceptible to an occasional upset, Laramie is also one of the most difficult places to win in the Mountain West because of the altitude and the difficulty getting there. Adding to the challenge this season is that Wyoming plays an unconventional slow-down style that has helped the Cowboys win six league games and get within five or fewer points in each of their losses.
Wyoming almost let San Diego State be the latest to steal a victory late, but the Cowboys dug in their heels and held strong after the Aztecs cut a 16-point second-half deficit to four on a Winston Shepard steal and layup with 58 seconds to go. A Nathan Sobey fast-break dunk on the ensuing possession and single free throws by Sobey and Jerron Granberry helped ice the game.
Thus the Aztecs' win streak ended with them trudging to the locker room as Cowboys fans stormed the court in celebration.
It was a bitter loss for San Diego State but one that neither sinks the Aztecs' season nor even alters their chances of winning the Mountain West or earning a favorable NCAA seed all that much.
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