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Rick Wright: No. 4 San Diego State lives up to its ranking

When writing a column on deadline, it helps to have a premise going in — one that can be shaped, molded, in reaction to events as they happen.

As of 7 p.m. Wednesday, my premise at Dreamstyle Arena — The Pit was this: San Diego State isn’t that good. Really.

Having seen the Aztecs on TV against UNLV, I was thinking, they’re not Indiana 1975-76. They’re not UNLV ’89-90. I believe I’ve seen better teams in past years in the Mountain West.

They may be unbeaten, but (so the premise went) they’re beatable. Fourth-best team in the country? I don’t think so. Even the Lobos, depleted as they are, distracted though they may be, backed by the power of the Pit, buoyed by the best fans in the conference. …

And, no.

Shaped and molded? Try spindled and mutilated.

Premise revisited: San Diego State, an 85-57 winner on Wednesday, is as good as if not better than advertised. Not long after new UNM football coach Danny Gonzales led the pregame cheers, the Lobos were down two touchdowns and a field goal.

That’s right, 17-0.

“I thought that opening three minutes from San Diego State were the most impressive three minutes I’ve ever gone against another team in the four years I’ve been a head coach,” Lobos coach Paul Weir said afterward.

I covered UNM football during the Mike Locksley era, so I know a little bit about blowouts. But I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a game get out of hand as quickly as Wednesday’s.

So easily and quickly were the Aztecs scoring, it was hard to tell what defense the Lobos were in. A can’t-matchup zone, maybe? The Lobos, meanwhile, couldn’t throw a pea in the Pacific.

One thing, though, from that original premise remains unchanged; the Pit crowd, 13,241 strong on Wednesday, is terrific.

After SDSU’s 17-0 start, the Lobos worked their way back to semi-respectability by outscoring the Aztecs 23-22 during the ensuing 13 minutes. To hear the crowd during that span, one might have thought it was the Lobos who were up 39-23.

With the hiring of native son Gonzales and the return of Rocky Long as his defensive coordinator, maybe the Albuquerque fan base can be persuaded to give UNM football that kind of support.

Even Lobo basketball fans, though, have their breaking point. Once SDSU (22-0, 11-0 Mountain West) stretched its lead back to 59-30 with 16:15 left in the game, a library-like atmosphere (remember libraries?) prevailed.

Regarding the rest of the season, things no doubt will improve for UNM (16-7, 5-5 MWC) once Vance Jackson and JaQuan Lyle return from injury and injury/suspension, respectively. But Carlton Bragg (booted) is not coming back, and, on the glass and defending the basket, the Lobos have no one like him.

“We don’t have a lot of physicality down (around the basket),” Weir said.

Still, the Lobos matched the Aztecs, 30-30, in points in the paint. It was their 15-4 deficit from beyond the arc that made this game so ugly.

San Diego State’s three starting guards, KJ Feagin, Jordan Schaefer and Malachi Flynn, were 10-of-18 on 3s. UNM’s counterparts — Keith McGee, Makuach Maluach and Vante Hendrix — were 3-of-14.

Meanwhile, whether point guard JJ Caldwell (suspension) returns this season is undetermined.

“Honestly, I think if we’d had our full team it might have been an upset,” Lobos guard Keith McGee said.

Maybe — if that full team had included Mel Daniels, Danny Granger and Darington Hobson.

Of course, Full Team 2019-20 is not coming back. Weir and his players, as well, have off-the-court problems to sort through.

Beyond this season?

Weir is a bright young coach. He can recruit. Things will get better, and soon.

That, at least, is my premise.

Don’t confuse that with a promise.

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