Spokane, WA--- After being ranked as the 25th Mens Basketball program according to the AP Poll, San Diego State rolled over Long Beach State on Saturday, getting the Aztecs ready for its biggest challenge in the program's opening night: No. 12 Gonzaga on the road.
Gonzaga has been the WCC regular season champs consecutively since 1998, and unquestioningly is one of the powerhouses on the West Coast. The arena at Spokane, WA will be the loudest, hostile environment the Aztecs will face this regular season.
San Diego State came prepared, quickly stepping up to their opponents. In the first half alone, Aztecs shot 18-38 (.474) in the field over Gonzaga's 12-30 (.400).
Malcolm Thomas sat out most of the first half with foul trouble, forcing Kawhi Leonard and Billy White to carry the teams offense sharing 12 points and Leonard leading the team with rebounds.
However, San Diego State couldn't find an answer to Gonzaga guard, Stephen Gray, as he led the scoring attack against the Aztecs. Gray single-handely kept the Bulldogs within 4 at the half and ended the game with a career high 35 points.
San Diego State began succumb to pressure.
Out the gate, San Diego State lacked focus as they turned the ball over on their first two possessions, allowing the Gonzaga Bulldogs to go on a 7-0 run before Rahon hit a three pointer to calm the crowd at Spokane.
Malcolm Thomas kept the bench warm as he accumulated the Aztecs' 4 fouls, giving the night's rebound duties to Leonard and White.
The lost opportunities on sloppy play allowed Gonzaga shooters, Sacre and Goodson, to get hot.
The Aztecs needed someone to carry them.
Billy White took the opportunity to put the Aztecs on his back scoring 21 midway through the second half, shooting 10-15 (.666).At the 11:11 mark, White slices through the Gonzaga baseline coming up with a three point play. Then off the missed free throw attempt, White hits a three pointer to quickly put the Aztecs up by 7, 64-57.
Then San Diego State stepped on the pedal.
Malcolm Thomas re-entered the game and San Diego State's tempo gets aggressive, forcing turnovers off lazy passes and out rebounding the Bulldogs.
On other side, Stephen Gray delayed the Aztecs thoughts of an upset with consistent, outstanding offensive play.
If the Aztecs were stepping on the pedal, Stephen Gray was the cop who kept chase. Stephen Gray also hit his career high and let Spokane know that he was going to will them into victory.
Aztec fouls allowed the Bulldogs to stay in the game and by game's end, Gonzaga took to the line 27 times, making 21 shots.
Uh-oh, game's getting close.
Though Aztecs gave the Bulldogs an early double bonus, their rebounding game kept them in the driver's seat. The Aztecs out rebounded the Bulldogs 30-22, and 10 of the Aztec rebounds came from Kawhi Leonard.
Down to the wire, Gray pulls Gonzaga within 77-76 with 23 seconds left.
Kawhi Leonard gets fouled off the in-bound and goes to the line.
Coming into this season, Aztecs knew they needed to improve their bad luck at the charity line from previous season.
Leonard hits two clutch free throws to put SDSU ahead 79-76.
Gray thought he had one more miracle left, but his three point attempt fell short. White's performance outshines Gray's and the Aztecs left Spokane, WA with a victory, earning their stripes as a top 25, even perhaps a top 15 program.