Three thoughts on San Diego State’s 72-47 win against Long Beach State on Tuesday night at Viejas Arena:
With 9:02 left, sophomore guard Lamont Butler split the defense, dribbled down the lane, elevated and threw down a two-handed jam that drew maybe the loudest roar on a night when the Aztecs would dunk six other times.
At least it’s a good memory to hold for the next month, while he sits out with a broken left wrist.
Butler immediately pointed to his wrist and asked out of the game. The initial prognosis was a sprain and that he could return if necessary. It wasn’t necessary, with SDSU up 27, and he didn’t.
But X-rays Wednesday showed a non-displaced fracture (that won’t require surgery), and the Aztecs now must play the remainder of the nonconference season without their 6-foot-2 bull in a china shop.
“It’s like a skateboard accident,” coach Brian Dutcher said. “He put out his hand to brace himself on the fall and fractured the wrist.”
The good news: Because of exam week and the Christmas holiday, that encompasses only five Division I games. Had he missed the month of January, it would be nine. And because it’s an arm instead of a lower body injury, he can maintain some semblance of fitness.
The bad news: He won’t play at No. 24 Michigan on Saturday or Dec. 17 against Saint Mary’s in Phoenix — the two remaining nonconference chances at quality wins so important for NCAA Tournament selection purposes.
Butler had made the biggest stride of SDSU’s three-man freshman class from last season, earning a starting spot ahead of fifth-year senior Adam Seiko, regularly guarding the opposing team’s best perimeter player (he held USC leading scorer Boogie Ellis to two points, 15 under his average). He also was becoming one of the Aztecs’ most consistent offensive weapons, averaging 12.0 points over the last five games while shooting 47.6 percent overall and 47.1 percent behind the arc.
The obvious replacement is Seiko, who participated in part of practice Wednesday after missing the last 2½ games with quad contusion. He played some point for the Uganda national team at the FIBA AfroBasket tournament last summer but doesn’t have the same dribble penetration skills. That, and even more minutes for starting guard Trey Pulliam.
Other candidates for increased minutes are less experienced: sophomore Keith Dinwiddie, who appeared in just seven games last season; and Duquesne transfer Chad Baker-Mazara, who at 6-7 gives the Aztecs more size on the floor but hasn’t yet mastered the defensive system and has made only 5 of 25 shot attempts.
“We can fill minutes,” Dutcher said, “but we can’t replace Lamont. He’s been playing great for us. He’s so tough defensively that he takes the pressure off Trey by guarding the other team’s point guard. The No. 1 concern is whether Trey is capable of playing heavy minutes and having primary ballhandling duties. When he and Lamont are both in the game, they can take turns bringing the ball up the floor.
“But we’ll just have to figure it out.”
2. Next man up
Dinwiddie entered Tuesday’s game with 11 points in six games this season.
Then he scored 12.
It wasn’t an en-fuego, heat-check shooting performance — 4 of 9 overall, 2 of 7 behind the arc — but it was a welcome, timely step forward by a guy whose role will expand with Butler and Seiko both injured. This is a team desperately in need of a reliable, respected perimeter marksman; Dinwiddie might be the only guy on the roster who fits the job description.
“Keith has to shoot the ball for us to be good,” Dutcher said. “Every time Keith shoots it, I think it’s going in. But he missed a couple wide open ones. As he continues to grow in his confidence and his percentage rises from 3, we’ll be a more dangerous team at the offensive end.”
More impressive, in some ways, is what he’s done at the other end. You don’t play defense, you don’t play at this program. It took a freshman season sitting on the bench for him to fully embrace that, and he’s become a committed defender who is taking charges, tipping passes and grasping the sophisticated rotations.
So much that when he wasn’t scoring, he stayed on the floor because he wasn’t a defensive liability.
“When I’m not scoring,” Dinwiddie said, “old me would just be out there. Now, being here, there’s so much more to the game than just offense.”
Added Pulliam: “You can tell defensively, he’s in the right spots. He knows when he makes a mistake now. He doesn’t need anybody to tell him. That’s the biggest thing, him recognizing it.”
Dinwiddie played a career high 20½ minutes against USC last Friday. He played 21 on Tuesday.
“If I have this opportunity and not come in and produce, it’s just going to be the next man up,” Dinwiddie said. “I’m just trying to take as much advantage of this as I can.”
The Aztecs get an extra day to prepare for Michigan, which has a 9:15 p.m. EST tip at North Carolina on Wednesday night as part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. They’ll use it, too.
“I told our guys I’d like to give them the day off but we’re not,” Dutcher said. “We have an extra prep day, so we have to take advantage of it. I told them, ‘We won’t tax your legs. It might be more mental. But we have to prep for Michigan.’ They’re traveling, they’re playing North Carolina, so all their focus is on North Carolina. Our focus right now is (already) on Michigan.”
There’s another reason. Because of the four-hour flight and three-hour time change, Dutcher won’t have his normal road routine Friday, where his team practices in San Diego before getting on the plane. The best option was a nonstop that leaves at 7 a.m.
They’ll get in Michigan’s Crisler Center after arriving, but not for a full practice. Experience has taught him that much.
“After we travel a full day and then try to practice, usually that doesn’t set itself up for a good performance on the practice floor,” Dutcher said. “You’ve been on the plane four hours, our flight is at 7 in the morning, we’ll be up early. I like to just get there and shoot around, get familiar with Crisler, maybe walk through a few things but try to get all our prep work done Wednesday and Thursday leading to Friday’s travel.”
The game Saturday is at 1 p.m. EST, so there isn’t time for a shootaround, usually at noon, like there would be before a night tip.
That makes Wednesday and Thursday key prep days. Friday is for travel and a brief walk-through. It also helps that he was able to save legs in the blowout win, using 14 players and no one more than 25 minutes.
“You have to set what you want to accomplish and have a smaller amount to work on,” Dutcher said of the Friday evening session at Crisler. “If you try to do everything in that day, they are taxed mentally and physically and they can’t get it done.”