SAN DIEGO — If you are looking for a desperate basketball coach, San Diego State is the place to find one.
Smokey Gaines will go to nearly any length to shake up his team.
He even benched his leading scorer, Anthony Watson, in Saturday's consolation game of the Holiday Bowl tournament.
It didn't make a difference.
The Aztecs proved they could lose as well without Watson. SDSU suffered its ninth loss in 10 games by falling to Fresno State, 61-49.
Why didn't Watson play?
According to an SDSU source, Gaines thought Watson was too casual in Friday night's game.
"He didn't feel good, so I didn't play him," Gaines said. "He didn't feel good last night, either."
If Watson didn't feel good the night before, he did a good job of hiding it. He scored 21 points and had 4 rebounds as the Aztecs lost to North Carolina Charlotte, 77-76.
So, maybe there was more to the story than not feeling good.
"He didn't walk well in practice today," Gaines said when asked a second time Saturday. "I didn't think he felt good."
Said Watson: "Ask the coach about it. We really haven't talked about it. I'll be ready to practice Monday. I don't have any other comments."
Watson's absence spoke louder than words against Fresno State.
Without their leading scorer, the Aztecs went 5:05 in the first half and 4:22 in the second half without scoring.
During the first-half streak, SDSU did not have a field goal for 5:59. During the second-half streak, it went 8:54 without a field goal.
The Aztecs shot 34.9% from the field, their second-worst effort of the season. They shot 29.9% two weeks ago in an 81-64 loss to the University of San Diego.
Did Watson's absence have anything to do with what transpired against Fresno State?
"Had he played, I might not be standing here like this," said Boyd Grant, Fresno State coach. "He scores a lot for them. When Smokey took him off the court, it hurt him. We coaches have reasons for what we do. I'm sure Smokey is doing the right thing."
Said Creon Dorsey, Aztec point guard: "Wat doesn't realize it, but he helps me more than I help him. He's our scorer. When he's in the game, people guard him and I get my shots. I notice they played me much tighter without him tonight, and I didn't get my shots."
Dorsey made 1 of 4 field-goal attempts in 18 minutes. His two points were a season low.
SDSU's 49 points amounted to a team low for the season. Its previous low was in a 63-62 win over Florida seven days previous.
Maybe there's a message in the fact that defense wins games.
Fresno State (7-4) is known for its defensive play. The Bulldogs held Memphis State to a season-low 57 points Thursday night.
John Martens was SDSU's offensive force, scoring 20 points. He was 2 of 9 from the field and 16 of 21 at the free-throw line.
"I try to take the ball to the basket a lot," Martens said. "I draw a lot of fouls with the way I play. They were overly aggressive on me."
Freshman Johnny Scruggs also played an aggressive game as he replaced Watson in the starting lineup. Scruggs played the entire game, scoring 13 points and recording team-highs of 9 rebounds and 3 steals.
However, SDSU continued its streak of getting outrebounded in every game this season. Fresno State held a 39-29 rebounding edge, allowing it to get numerous second and third shots.
Brian Salone, a 6-foot 6-inch forward, had a career-high 23 points and 7 rebounds for the Bulldogs.
"I knew Smokey had a shortage of people," Grant said. "We were able to get the ball in to Brian a lot. That was the big thing for us."
Gaines took a big risk in the first half when he played five freshmen for a 1 1/2-minute period. In that time, the Aztecs went from a 13-12 lead to a 17-15 deficit.
In the second half, Gaines took an even bigger risk at a critical time by inserting Dave DesRochers, an offensive tackle from the football team. In the three minutes DesRochers played, SDSU went from a 36-35 lead to 43-36 deficit.
After that, it was no contest.
Despite losing again, the Aztecs will get another chance in the coming week when they begin Western Athletic Conference play. Gaines said it is too early to tell whether Watson will start Thursday's WAC opener against the Air Force Academy.
If anything, Gaines hopes that by benching his leading scorer, it will wake up his team.
"We hope we got everybody's attention," Gaines said. "We had to do something. We have a lot of new people. We need to get them to understand we have a top program here."
If a 1-9 record constitutes a top program, it would be interesting to know what qualifies as a weak program.