San Diego zoo: Aztecs use menagerie of players to beat Utes

Marcus Slaughter was held reasonably in check Wednesday night as his San Diego State Aztecs took on the Runnin’ Utes. The junior forward, the consensus preseason conference player of the year, was kept out of rhythm by a barrage of personal fouls, both for him and against him.

With more than six minutes to play in the second half, Slaughter-who got off just two field-goal attempts all night and finished with a quiet 14 points-had already fouled out, leaving the team without its best post player down the stretch.

But despite his quiet night (he also pulled down just one of SDSU’s 35 rebounds), the Aztec offense learned to put points on the board-and clean the boards- without him.

Junior guard Brandon Heath overcame a slow start of his own to catch fire in leading the Aztecs from behind. It started in the waning seconds of the first half. With Utah leading by five and the clock winding down, Heath hurried down the floor and buried a deep three-pointer right at the halftime buzzer.

“That was a boost going into the half,” Heath said. “We ended the half on a positive note with that three going in.”

That proved to be just the spark the Aztec offense needed. After the break, Heath picked up most of the slack by himself, scoring 15 points in a seven-minute stretch that helped San Diego State turn a two-point deficit into a seven-point lead.

“I got hot for a second, but like any other team they’re going to adjust to the flow of the game,” Heath said.

Heath didn’t score again over the last 11 minutes of the second half, and once Slaughter fouled out five minutes later, the Utes had effectively neutralized the Aztecs’ top two scorers. But still, SDSU was too much, as the MWC’s preseason favorite continued to get big contributions from some of its role players.

The Utes pulled to within two with 9:37 to play, but Mohamed Abukar hit back-to-back jumpers to push the lead back out to six.

“I’ve got a lot of confidence in my teammates,” Heath said. “I know they can step up and make shots, and they did tonight.”

Senior center Mohamed Camara came up huge as well, tipping in a missed three-pointer by Heath and, with just two minutes remaining, grabbing a huge offensive rebound and kicking it out to John Sharper for a pivotal three.

“I’m just trying to do my job, try to rebound the ball and play defense to help this team win,” Camara said. “Because Marcus was in foul trouble, I got a bigger job. I’m the biggest one on this team, I was the only one who could play in the low post.”

Even when Heath wasn’t scoring, he was finding ways to get involved, as he dished out five of his game-high eight assists over the final 10 minutes of play. Off the bench, Camara finished with four points and five rebounds, including three on the offensive glass.

“I’m not into stats, everybody contributed, but if I had to give a game ball, it would go to Mohamed Camara for two or three huge plays down the stretch,” SDSU head coach Steve Fisher said. “He did what you have to do to win. He made some plays for us, and it was significant, obviously.”

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