LAHAINA, Hawaii — The Pittsburgh Panthers’ early-season trip to paradise was anything but fun in the sun, and facing a versatile San Diego State Aztecs squad did not make matters any more enjoyable.
Four days after losing to the University of Hawaii as a double-digit favorite in what was supposed to be a tune-up for the EA Sports Maui Invitational, the Panthers were stifled by the well-rounded Aztecs 74-57 in the second semifinal Tuesday evening at the Lahaina Civic Center.
“Well, obviously we don’t feel real good about our performance tonight,” said Pitt coach Jamie Dixon. “I told the players they have about an hour to feel sorry about themselves. We played against a very good team tonight that was older, quicker, stronger to the ball than us. We’re going to come back and play better tomorrow. That was the message to our guys–they’re big, they’re strong, they have depth. I give them a lot of credit.”
Fifteenth-ranked San Diego State advances to Wednesday night’s championship game, where it will face third-ranked Arizona.
Less than 24 hours after squeaking past BYU in a 92-87 double-overtime thriller, San Diego State proved that short rest was not an issue by making short work of the Panthers. The squad from Southern California improved to 16-0 in its past 16 regular-season games when faced with 24 hours or less to prepare for an opponent.
“I like how we played,” said Aztecs coach Steve Fisher. “We played together, we guarded hard and made it difficult for them to get easy shots and we fought like crazy on the glass. They’re a very good offensive rebounding team, and they showed it again tonight.
“But I thought the way we played, shared the ball and moved the ball is indicative of maturity (and a team) that cares more about winning than their own personal stats. When we do that, we’ve got a chance, because we’ve got good players, you all know that. Tomorrow we play a team that’s as good as any team in the country.”
The Aztecs (5-0) fell behind 2-0 to begin the game, but they would not trail again. San Diego State established a 14-point halftime lead that would swell to 20 early in the second half.
The double-digit win added to San Diego State’s impressive streak of 125 consecutive victories after holding a lead with five minutes to play.
Guard Trey Kell led the Aztecs with 15 points and dished out three assists before getting an early trip to the bench to rest once the game was well in hand. Forward Winston Shepard gathered seven boards and added 13 points to aid San Diego State, which outshot Pitt from the field, 58.7 percent to 37.7 percent.
“Over these past games … I feel comfortable with my teammates and coaches,” said Kell, a freshman. “I’m helping the team, and we’re coming out with victories.”
Shepard, a junior playing in his second Hawaii tournament in three years, is growing fond of Island life — especially with winning serving as the norm for the Aztecs.
“I love it (Maui). Hopefully when I get to be Coach Fish’s age, I’ll have a house out here,” Shepard said.
Guard James Robinson led the Panthers with a game-high 17 points. He converted all six of his attempts from the foul line.
Despite being overmatched, Pittsburgh (3-2) did not fold and used a 7-0 run capped by a 3-pointer from forward Ryan Luther to trim the Aztecs’ lead to 13 with 15:22 remaining in the game. San Diego State countered by clamping down on defense, and after clogging the paint and employing aggressive full-court pressure, pushed its advantage back up to a comfortable 21-point margin midway through the second half.
San Diego State junior forward Skylar Spencer continued his block party, posting five blocked shots a night after collecting five blocks against BYU. The Aztecs entered the game tied for 12th nationally with 28 blocked field goals and added 10 more to that total Tuesday night.
The Panthers could not overcome 17 turnovers and did not take advantage of a surprising 35-22 edge in rebounding over the larger, more active Aztecs.
NOTES: San Diego State improved to 5-0 to start the season for the fourth time under coach Steve Fisher and for the seventh time in
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