Coaches preparing to play San Diego State probably get sick of repeatedly telling their team how important it is to stop Xavier Thames.
The Aztecs’ do-everything point guard is the driving force for everything the team does offensively.
But the reason San Diego State is a top-10 team is the pieces they have around Thames, players who have taken turns stepping up for the Aztecs.
On Wednesday night, it was Matt Shrigley’s turn.
The freshman forward from San Diego went 4-for-5 from the 3-point line in the second half, scoring all 14 of his points after halftime to help the Aztecs to a 73-64 Mountain West victory over UNLV at the Thomas & Mack Center.
“It was a big lift,” Thames said. “He got real hot in the second half. We just wanted to keep finding him and getting shots, and he kept making them. When he’s on like that, he can’t be stopped.”
Accounting for him was not a big part of UNLV’s defensive strategy.
“We weren’t expecting Shrigley to contribute like that,” UNLV forward Khem Birch said. “The game plan was just stop Thames, and that’s it. But (Shrigley) came out and played amazing.”
Shrigley matched his career high with the four 3-pointers made, and it was the ninth time he had scored in double figures.
He made his first five shots and fell a point shy of the best scoring game of his career.
“I was able to get that first one to go, and from there the coaches have a lot of confidence in me after I make one,” he said. “They always get me a second one, and my teammates got me the ball in a good spot and I was able to knock a few down.”
Shrigley’s instant offense came off the bench when the Aztecs desperately needed it. San Diego State was 1 of 7 from 3-point range when Shrigley hit a 3 to cut UNLV’s lead to 42-40 with 14:42 remaining. Two minutes later, he again cut San Diego State’s deficit to two points with another 3.
Shrigley drove from the 3-point line for a layup a minute later, then tied the score with another 3-pointer with 10:51 to play.
Shrigley then put the Aztecs ahead 53-52 on San Diego State’s next possession. He wouldn’t score again, but his run of 14 points in less than five minutes kept the Aztecs close and allowed Thames to take over down the stretch.
“The thing about our team this year, in really pressure moments, different people make important plays for us like Matt did tonight,” San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said. “He did the same thing in the first half of the Xavier game. We couldn’t make a basket, and he came off the bench and did the same thing he did tonight. He can really shoot the ball, and he just made some big time plays for us.”
Shrigley said he was in a similar rhythm against Utah State on Feb. 18, when he hit four 3-pointers and scored 15 points.
“That was probably the only other time I felt like this,” Shrigley said.
He hopes to keep the momentum going. The Aztecs host New Mexico on Saturday for the top seed in the Mountain West tournament, then return to the Thomas & Mack for that event.
If Shrigley stays hot, San Diego State will be tough to beat.
He said it didn’t hit him that his strong shooting night took place on the same floor as the tournament will be played until he asked about it after the game.
“But it’s always nice to come in and get some shots up and get a run on the court we’ll be playing in the tournament on next weekend,” he said.
If the Aztecs face the host team again, Shrigley probably will be more than an afterthought when UNLV draws up its defensive game plan.
Contact reporter Adam Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.