On the night the Butler was the hero, Bradley does the heavy lifting

Despite early tournament struggles, Matt Bradley turns in his best performance when the Aztecs needed it most


Noelani Sapla

Matt Bradley pulls up for a jump shot in the Final Four versus Florida Atlantic University on April 1.

by Justin Cox, Sports Editor

HOUSTON — Saturday’s Final Four thriller over Florida Atlantic University at NRG Stadium will always be remembered for junior guard Lamont Butler’s game-winning jumper — deservedly so. 

But the San Diego State Aztecs never have the chance to make their first NCAA Championship game without the performance of senior guard Matt Bradley. He finished with 21 points and six rebounds and finished with a team-high +10 in the 72-71 win — showing the world why he has been SDSU’s leading scorer since transferring from UC Berkeley before his junior season. 

It hasn’t been the smoothest tournament for Bradley. 

In the four NCAA Tournament games leading up to tonight, Bradley has averaged only 8.8 points per game on 31% shooting and he was only 1-10 from behind the arc. But from the jump, it appeared he was determined to get himself going. After the Owls took a quick 5-0 lead, Bradley hit back-to-back threes on the right wing and settled the Aztecs into the game. He said it felt good to turn in a good performance. 

“I had two bad shooting performances the last couple of games,” Bradley said. “I just got back in the gym. My teammates were encouraging me, and my coaches. (I) spent some time praying, doing what I need to get right. I trust myself most importantly. I’m thankful I was in the position to come through.” 

Just two minutes later Bradley hit another 3-pointer and a mid-range turnaround to make it 11 points in just five minutes of action. Head coach Brian Dutcher said he told his team to be fearless before the game, and Bradley did just that. 

“He was going to shoot himself into this game,” Dutcher said. “The first one went in. That always makes you feel good to see the first one go in, and he got rolling. He’s a dangerous offensive player. It was good to see Matt rolling.” 

Matt Bradley attempts a reverse layup during the Final Four on April 1.
Matt Bradley attempts a reverse layup during the Final Four on April 1. (Noelani Sapla)

It was clear Bradley came to play and FAU head coach Dusty May took notice. For the remainder of the half, the Owls denied Bradley and were able to hold him scoreless en route to a seven-point FAU lead. 

Late in the second half, the SDSU win looked heavily in doubt as the Owls extended their lead to 14 but Bradley said there was no panic in the Aztec huddle. 

“We were just motivated,” Bradley said. “We’d been in that position so many times throughout the year. We’ve always been knocked down. But the biggest thing we also do is get back up and keep fighting.” 

Bradley reentered the game, and the Aztecs immediately sparked a 20-8 run that brought the Aztecs faithful who made the trip to Houston back to life. Bradley had eight points during the run and willed the Aztecs back into the game. It was the type of run the Aztecs have had time and time again this tournament and this season. 

The Aztecs will have a chance to put their name in the history books Monday night as they take on the winner of tonight’s second semifinal between the University of Connecticut and the University of Miami but to just have the opportunity to play for the trophy is something that he can’t believe. 

“It’s something I never dreamed of,” Bradley said. “This is my last year. There’s no better way to go out than to bring one home for the city. I’m thankful for my family and thankful for (the fans). Let’s keep it going. Let’s go San Diego.” 

Lets go San Diego indeed.