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Bottom Line: Free Throws Do in SDSU

February 21, 1988|CHRIS DE LUCA

SAN DIEGO — Jim Brandenburg, the San Diego State basketball coach, unfolded the sheet of paper listing the final statistics from Saturday's game between his team and Utah.

Maybe he could find a reason there for the Aztecs' 50-48 Western Athletic Conference loss.

Let's see, field-goal percentage. SDSU 20 of 44 (46%), Utah 14 of 43 (33%). That wasn't it.

Rebounds. SDSU 31, Utah 24. That wasn't it.

Free throws. SDSU 7 of 9 (78%), Utah 17 of 19 (90%).

That was it.

"I just don't understand how they go to the line 19 times and we go 9," said Brandenburg after the Aztecs fell to 10-14 overall and 3-9 in the WAC in front of 2,445 fans at the Sports Arena. Utah improved to 16-8 and 8-4.

Utah hit 12 of 12 free throws in the second half. That included 6 of 6 in the final 1:31, the first two of which gave Utah the lead for good, 46-44.

SDSU's Tony Ross then missed from three-point range, forcing the Aztecs to foul. The Utes' final four free throws maintained a four-point lead, rendering a lay-in by guard Bryan Williams with 1 second left meaningless.

What Brandenburg clearly understood was how much of an effect forward Sam Johnson's flu had on the team. Johnson was complaining of flu symptoms late Friday. Saturday, he played only six minutes.

That's well off his average of 24 (30 for WAC games). Taking up the slack, forward Rodney Hawkins and Williams each played 39 minutes (out of a possible 40), and center Mitch McMullen and guard Ross each played 37.

Brandenburg also was forced to sparingly use senior forward Juan Espinoza, who has been complaining of back spasms the past week.

"We got too fatigued and too short-handed to win the game," Brandenburg said. "It just took away one more scorer from us."

Johnson's flu couldn't have come at a worse time. Thursday, the Aztecs beat No. 7 Brigham Young in an 82-80 overtime game that was one of their most physical of the year. Then Saturday's game was moved from 7:30 p.m. to 2:05 because it was chosen as the WAC game of the week and was played earlier to accommodate television.

"We were beat up a little bit from playing a tough game Thursday night, so it was definitely a mental game," said McMullen, who led the Aztecs with 15 points. "We had to get our minds over matter in this game. But that's no excuse. We have to suck it up and go out there and play."

Easier said than done.

Midway through the first half, McMullen slowly made his way downcourt after an Aztec turnover. Brandenburg jumped off the bench and began screaming at him, and McMullen waved for a replacement."

"We can't stop the game for you," Brandenburg shouted back.

Said McMullen afterward: "I was searching for my second wind. We just all kind of had to get our second wind (in the first half). The second half, we were fine."

SDSU opened the game with four consecutive turnovers, got off only one shot in the first 3 1/2 minutes and trailed, 22-12, with 6:50 remaining in the first half. But the Aztecs went on an 11-1 run and tied it, 23-23, on a pair of free throws by McMullen with 26 seconds to play. Keith Chapman, who led the Utes with 13 points, sank a 21-footer at the buzzer to provide Utah with a 26-23 halftime lead.

On Thursday, the Aztecs had opened weakly against BYU but made their comeback quicker and with the help of some key three-pointers from Ross.

Saturday, Ross was 1 for 5 from three-point range and finished with nine points. Utah's Chris Fulton stuck to Ross' side all afternoon Saturday. At times, Brandenburg screamed that Fulton was holding Ross.

"Ross is the best player on their team," Fulton said. "If you shut him down, you are shutting down a major part of their offense."

Said Brandenburg: "Fulton is holding the whole game. I think Fulton has done a nice job defensively. They did the things it took to be successful."

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