SAN DIEGO -- Wyoming's basketball team must have been feeling pretty good about itself as the first half neared its end at Viejas Arena, winless in the Mountain West yet hanging around against the nation's No. 4-ranked team.
Then Malachi Flynn gave the Cowboys a little reminder of the kind of season San Diego State is having. The kind of magic that happens when you're still undefeated in late January.
Flynn was fouled with 3:09 left in the half, prompting a media timeout. As he walked to the bench and away from the basket, he flipped the ball back over his head from the free throw line.
It went in.
It didn't count, but it didn't need to. The Aztecs won 72-55 in a game that matched the only team that hasn't lost in conference (9-0) against the only one that hasn't won (0-9).
In attendance at Viejas Arena were two men in suit jackets who could be important in SDSU's march to March. Dan Gavitt is the NCAA's vice president of basketball. Mitch Barnhart is Kentucky's athletic director and the vice chair of the 10-person NCAA Tournament selection committee.
They saw the Aztecs improve to 20-0 and match the best start in 99 years of men's basketball on Montezuma Mesa, with a chance for No. 21 at UNLV on Sunday afternoon.
But the euphoria of pulling even with Kawhi Leonard's legendary 2010-11 team and what might come next was dulled with 13:42 left, when coach Brian Dutcher had to call timeout to sub out sophomore forward Aguek Arop after he appeared to have re-injured his right shoulder.
Arop initially strained it Dec. 4 at Colorado State and missed seven games, returning Jan. 11 against Boise State -- a full week later than scheduled out of what Dutcher called an abundance of caution. Arop bumped the shoulder on a drive across the lane and lost the ball. After Wyoming scored at the other end, he inbounded with his left hand and Dutcher immediately got him out.
The 6-6 Arop doesn't start but is arguably the most indispensable player off the bench, a player Dutcher calls "our Swiss Army knife" as well the team's best offensive rebounder and most versatile defender. His value is heightened without starting center Nathan Mensah, whom Dutcher gives only an "outside chance" of returning this season with what The San Diego Union-Tribune reported is a pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in the lung).