LAS VEGAS — Eighth-ranked San Diego State already has a trophy and has cut down the nets after claiming the regular-season Mountain West Conference championship. Now the Aztecs want to add to their collection.
“We’re what everybody wants to be,” coach Steve Fisher said after the top-seeded Aztecs crushed No. 8 seed Utah State 73-39 in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West tournament on Thursday afternoon. We’re the guys that have the trophy and the nets, the undisputed conference champion. Nobody else likes that. We want to get selfish. We want to win another championship.
“It’s easy to say; hard to do.”
Try telling the Aggies that.
Senior guard Xavier Thames had 15 points and a season-high seven assists, sophomore forward Winston Shepard scored 13 points and senior forward Josh Davis added eight points, 13 rebounds and six steals for San Diego State, which held Utah State to a season-low point total and 29.3 percent shooting from the field.
“We wanted to come in and play a good defensive game,” said Thames, named the Mountain West Player of the Year. “Offensively, we wanted to come in and play well. I think we did both of those things. That’s why we got a big win today.”
The 34-point margin of victory was the largest in Mountain West tournament history, topping Boise State’s 31-point (83-52) win over San Jose State on Wednesday night.
“That’s one of the better defensive teams I’ve seen in a long time,” Utah State coach Stew Morrill said. “San Diego State just takes you out of everything you’re trying to do. At least they took us out of everything we were trying to do.”
Fisher said, “I told our team, ‘That’s one of our best games, let’s build on it. Let’s take it from where we are now and see what can we do tomorrow to be a little bit better. You feel good when you win. You feel better when you win the way we did.”
The top-seeded Aztecs (28-3) will face the winner of Thursday’s quarterfinal game between UNLV (19-12) and Wyoming (18-13) in Friday night’s semifinals at 9 p.m. ET.
Any concerns that San Diego State might have a letdown after rallying for an emotional, court-storming 51-48 victory over New Mexico to win the Mountain West regular-season title last Saturday were quickly wiped away.
The Aztecs, who entered the game second in the nation in points allowed (57.2), jumped out to an 8-0 lead as Utah State missed its first shots from the field.
The eighth-seeded Aggies (18-14), who used a 16-3 run in the final 1:35 of regulation to pull out a 73-69 win over No. 9 seed Colorado State in Wednesday’s first round, closed to 14-8 on a jumper by Jarred Shaw, but the Aztecs answered with a 17-3 run that was highlighted by back-to-back 3-pointers by Thames while building a 36-15 halftime lead.
“I think we got some really good looks right in the beginning; they just weren’t going down,” said Utah State senior guard Spencer Butterfield, who finished with just two points on 1-of-6 shooting from the field “We may have lost some confidence, I’m not sure. Shots we usually hit, they just weren’t going down. You’ve got to credit their defense. They were really long and athletic and that can make you change your shot.”
San Diego State extended its lead to 34 points, 59-25, on a Skylar Spencer dunk with 12:40 remaining. The Aggies, despite playing the final 10 minutes against San Diego State reserves, never got closer than 30 points the rest of the way.
“With that type of team, you can’t dig yourself a hole,” said Shaw, who finished with 14 points to lead Utah State. :It will be hard to get back in. We dug ourselves a deep, deep hole.”
NOTES: The 15 points were the fewest in a first half this season for Utah State, erasing the previous low of 22 scored at San Diego State on Feb. 18. … According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, San Diego State has now played 16 opponents during the last decade with 24 hours or less to prep for an opponent and had won all 16 of them, including a 86-80 victory over 14th-ranked Creighton in the Legacy Classic. … This is the third
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