Aztecs down Fresno State, 64-52, move onto semifinals of MW tournament


Photo by Kelly Smiley

The Aztecs bench celebrates during the teams 64-52 victory over Fresno State in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West tournament on March 8 in Las Vegas.

by Abraham Jewett, Sports Editor

San Diego State men’s basketball came into the Mountain West Conference tournament as the conference’s hottest team, riding a six-game winning streak.

Make that seven games.

The Aztecs led for nearly 35 minutes, defeating No. 4 seed Fresno State 64-52 in the teams quarterfinal matchup at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas on March 8.

The nearly wire-to-wire victory was the Aztecs first victory in three attempts against the Bulldogs this season.

“I just feel like we lock in really well in the first game, and we don’t take any game for granted, no matter who the opponent is,” senior guard Trey Kell said. “There was some added motivation knowing we haven’t beat (Fresno) yet this year.”

The Aztecs will now play regular-season champion Nevada in tomorrow’s semifinals, after the Wolf Pack came back in the second half of their quarterfinal matchup to defeat UNLV earlier in the day.

The Bulldogs were doomed by sloppy play in the second-half, which resulted in 11 turnovers after the break (14 total).

“I think we saw the improvement is we’re better defensively,” head coach Brian Dutcher said. “We’re harder to score on. We look like Aztec teams of old.”

Kell led SDSU with 16 points to go with seven rebounds, while fellow senior and co-captain Malik Pope finished with 12 points to help pace the team.

The Aztecs shot just 42 percent for the game, but limited the Bulldogs to only 38 percent from the floor.

“It was old-fashioned basketball,” Dutcher said. “It was slug it out, nothing easy, two opponents that knew each other well, and both played well, and we hit a spurt… we were able to come away with a victory. ”

Despite leading through much of the game, the Aztecs did not extend their lead to double digits until a three-point play from freshman forward Matt Mitchell (10 points, four rebounds)  gave the team a 52-40 lead with 6:36 to play.

Fresno pulled within 58-51 with 1:41 to play, after a three-pointer from junior guard Deshon Taylor, but the team would not get any closer.

Sophomore forward Bryson Williams led the Bulldogs with a game-high 23 points to go along with nine rebounds.

It was a low-scoring affair in the first half, with SDSU leading 29-26 going into the halftime break.

The Bulldogs shot only 34 percent from the field in the opening period, compared to 44 percent for SDSU.

Kell and Pope combined for 17 points for the Aztecs, whose biggest lead was 17-11, following an 8-0 run which included a jump shot from Pope and back-to-back three-pointers from junior forward Max Montana and Mitchell.

Williams led the Bulldogs in the first half with 11 points on five of 10 shooting.

Fresno State scored 20 of its 26 points in the first half in the paint, with their lone other points from field goals coming on a three-point shot from Taylor.

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