By TAYLOR QUELLMAN
The Aztecs got a glimpse of how bright the future looks despite falling to Colorado State Saturday evening, 79-73.
Standout freshman Malik Pope exploded for 22 points and seven rebounds in 28 valuable minutes.
The highly touted recruit was hobbled with a broken leg injury that dated back to his days at Laguna Creek (Elk Grove, Calif.) High School.
Coach Steve Fisher has slowly been integrating Pope into the Aztecs’ rotation, but Saturday he was finally able to show the nation what an incredible talent he has in the 6-foot-9 small forward.
In his most productive game as an Aztec, Malik shot 9 for 11 from the field, including a perfect 4 for 4 tally from the 3-point line. His spark off the bench erased an early 15-point deficit, bringing SDSU within one point at the four-minute mark of the second half.
Although SDSU went on to only score one point in those final four minute, Aztecs nation has a reason to feel optimistic about the future.
Fisher is known for his ability to manage players and put the best lineups on the floor, giving his teams excellent chances to win games. He has done exactly that with Pope.
With all the injuries the team has suffered early in the season, not once did Fisher rush Pope back to the court. Even when SDSU’s offense was non-existent, Fisher did not panic, knowing there was an answer coming.
Nobody can expect Pope to score 22 points every game, but do plan on seeing much more of the fantastic freshman.
Thinking back to the late-season emergence of Dwayne Polee off the bench, I foresee Pope playing same that role this year. He can provide an offensive spark in igniting the crowd, while he continues to grow as a basketball player.
Only the future will tell us what is in store for Malik Pope.
But one thing is for sure, with two home games this week against Fresno and Utah State, the Aztec faithful will be eager to see more of the same from Pope.
Mountain West Conference Power Rankings
- Wyoming (17-3, 6-1) +1
Wyoming reclaims the top spot in the power rankings after a wild week of overtime wins against Fresno State and New Mexico.
- San Diego State (15-5, 5-2) -1
Surviving the “Rocky” road-trip through the Mountain West with only one loss keeps SDSU in the top two. With a favorable week at home the Aztecs look to get some revenge against Fresno State and regain the top spot.
- Colorado State (18-2, 5-2) +0
The Rams picked up a statement victory Saturday at home against SDSU, establishing themselves as a legitimate tournament team.
- Fresno State (10-10, 5-2) +1
The Bulldogs held strong at home against Nevada last Saturday. The upcoming week will make or break their season with two road games at SDSU and Colorado State.
- Boise State (14-6, 4-3) +1
Don’t blink, because all of a sudden the Broncos seem to be clicking and have won four straight games. Derrick Marks has ignited this team by scoring 15-plus points in each of their conference games.
- New Mexico (13-7, 5-3) -2
The Lobos were one shot away from stunning Wyoming in Laramie Saturday. After losing a five-point lead with 1:30 left in overtime, the Lobos find themselves at 5-3 in conference and in search of a statement road victory.
- Utah State (11-8, 4-3) +0
Our favorite middle-of-the pack team in the conference split its road games in the state of Nevada, keeping it in the center of the power rankings. It also fell victim of an overtime loss at UNLV Saturday.
- UNLV (11-9, 2-5) +0
The Rebels lost a tight home game to New Mexico by two points Wednesday night. This young team continues to lack the ability to finish games, the main reason it sits at 2-5 in conference.
- Nevada (6-12, 2-4) +0
After losing Deonte Burton to graduation, Nevada needed to find a leader of the Wolfpack. The offense has struggled as its holds on to their top spot of the “bottom three”.
10. Air Force (8-11, 1-7) +0
Hobbled with injuries, the Falcons hope to limp into another win over San Jose State Wednesday night.
11. San Jose State (0-7, 2-17) +0
Wednesday night will be the biggest game of this team’s season. It hosts the struggling Falcons in what may be their last chance to win this season.
+ Contact Taylor Quellman at firstname.lastname@example.org