l'm less likely to hear weird hippie music when the next basketball polls come out. As SDSU climbed to fourth nationally, each poll seemed a hallucination of Grateful Dead magnitude.
San Diego State above blue bloods Kentucky, Connecticut and North Carolina? Like visions of tangerine trees and marmalade skies.
Earthy clarity may also be a dividend for coach Steve Fisher and his Aztecs (20-1) from Wednesday's 13-point loss at No. 9 Brigham Young. Better to win, sure, but better to discover the fault lines now than in the NCAA Tournament, where the Aztecs are 0-6.
The best BYU team in 20 years, despite trailing at halftime, schooled SDSU at times. "Very well-coached" and "very well put together" is how Aztecs point guard D.J. Gay described the Cougars (20-1) Friday.
Now comes the crucial part.
A BYU team that Fisher calls a "legitimate Final Four contender" dealt out valuable, if painful, lessons that other SDSU opponents could not, and likely will not.
The overarching lesson? Fisher needs to give the car keys to Kawhi Leonard, SDSU's rising sophomore.
In other words, make Leonard the offense's focal point.
"I'm not really a coach, but I wouldn't have a problem with it," said center Malcolm Thomas, one of SDSU's five seniors. "I think we could do it, and it would work to our advantage."
Leonard had light-bulb moments against BYU that I'll not soon forget. Seemingly, he realized that if he attacks from within 18 feet, good results will follow.
He's SDSU's leading scorer this year, yet that's largely because he manufactures his own points, often off rebounds.
Find more ways to get him the ball 10-16 feet from the basket, and turn him loose. The likely windfall: direct points, or assists, or offensive rebounds and put-back points, and opponents' fouls and fatigue.
"He's too strong to be stopped," said Thomas, who attempts to defend Leonard in practice.
True, Leonard's iffy jumpshot makes it hard to run an offense through him, but the 6-foot-7 forward has improved both his handle and his passing. The ball in his massive hands creates space for all teammates. An inviting nexus between talent and experience is now confronting SDSU. Leonard is quiet, but midway through his second season, he's increasingly aware of his gifts.
"He's always in the gym, so it's going to happen," Thomas said. "He's a warrior. He'll play through anything. Against good teams, he's going to be on his A game."
On defense as well, SDSU should ask more from him.
Have Leonard guard BYU star Jimmer Fredette in the rematch on Feb. 26, if only now and then. Aztecs forward Billy White had the best results against the 6-2 Fredette but tired. Leonard can give Gay and guard Chase Tapley a respite.
"I would want Kawhi to guard Jimmer," said Thomas, smiling.
Fredette indeed may have an NBA future, but for all the media and Twitter talk about how his 43-point perfomance validated his NBA potential, he was never guarded by SDSU's only NBA prospect.
SDSU got Jimmered, as BYU fans said, but BYU's deft screening and spacing also affirmed the merits of smartly featuring one's best player. It's far easier to tailor an offense around a senior guard whose range extends to 30 feet, as Fredette's does.
But I see the Aztecs getting bounced in the second round of NCAAs, unless they establish Leonard in their halfcourt sets in coming weeks.
The Aztecs may not soon have another talent such as Leonard, who said he also was recruited by UCLA, Michigan, USC, Arizona State and Arizona. And, with the Chicago Bulls and other NBA teams scouting him recently, Leonard may not be an Aztec next year if heeds the NBA's call.
"When I hear it, I just smile and just keep walking," he said of NBA talk. "I'm just serious about being a college basketball player right now and focusing on our team and getting our next win. It's not even a thought right now, whether I move on."