SDSU senior Matt Mitchell, with fellow senior Jordan Schakel on the right. They open their season against UCLA Wednesday. Photo credit: goaztecs.com

San Diego State opens its centennial basketball season Wednesday against a long-time force in the college game, UCLA.

The Bruins, ranked No. 22/21 in the national polls, travel to Viejas Arena for the contest, which will be closed to fans due to the ongoing pandemic.

SDSU’s second game of the two-day event at Viejas, against UC Irvine, takes place at 4 p.m. Friday.

UC Irvine and Pepperdine also will participate in the Wednesday/Friday slate of games.

In the other Wednesday game, UC Irvine faces Pepperdine at 3:30 p.m. In the first game Friday, UCLA takes on Pepperdine at noon.

The Aztecs have fared poorly over the years against the Bruins, but won the last matchup, in 2012 in the Wooden Classic. Prior to that, the teams last played each other in 1991, a Bruin victory.

It’s a challenging way to begin the season, and Coach Brian Dutcher knows it.

“I don’t think they’ll be overwhelmed by the moment,” he said. “Whether they’re overwhelmed by a very good UCLA team is another question,” he told the media this week.

San Diego State though, is coming off a magical season. The Aztecs won their first 26 games, en route to a 30-2 record and a Mountain West regular-season title.

They ended the season ranked at No. 6 in the Associated Press poll, but did not get to test the NCAA Tournament waters, as the pandemic caused officials to cancel the event.

Dutcher welcomes back three returning starters. Two seniors, forward Matt Mitchell and guard Jordan Schakel join junior forward Nathan Mensah.

Mitchell and Schakel played in all 32 games last season while Mensah appeared in 13, all starts, before an injury ended his season.

Nine newcomers join the veteran trio, including graduate transfer Terrell Gomez. The two-time All-Big West performer won the conference’s Freshman of the Year award in 2018.

The team though, lost Mountain West Athlete of the Year Malachi Flynn, who opted to enter the NBA Draft. He becamse the Toronto Raptors’ first-round pick last week.

A preseason Mountain West poll pegged the Aztecs to finish first. Dutcher sees SDSU continuing its strong defensive play.

“We’ve always been tough-minded defensively, he said. “I want to continue to be that, to have that be our trademark.”

– Staff reports

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