San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

Women’s basketball ready for final turn at Mountain West Tournament

A season of resilience has set the Aztecs up with a first round matchup against San José State on Sunday
Chinedu Nwoffiah
San Diego State forward Kim Villalobos rises against a pair of San José State defenders earlier this season at Viejas Arena. The Aztecs open the 2024 Mountain West Championship Tournament as the No. 7 seed, facing the No. 10 seed Spartans on Sunday, March 10 at 4:30 p.m.

For much of the second half of the San Diego State women’s basketball season, head coach Stacie Terry-Hutson has made reference to the Scarlet and Black as “having their blinker on.”

With the 2024 Mountain West Championships tipping off tomorrow, it’s the last off-ramp of the season.

The Aztecs (19-12,10-8) finished in a four-way tie for fourth place in the conference with Nevada, Colorado State and Boise State. Due to tie-breakers, SDSU slid into the No. 7 seed and will open with a first round matchup against No. 10 San José State (7-23, 2-16) at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.

“We’re playing good basketball, had a good win against Wyoming at home (with) one of our best defensive efforts,” Terry-Hutson said at a press conference on Thursday.

A win against the Spartans would give SDSU their first back-to-back 20-win seasons since 2011-12 and 2012-13. It’d be a significant turn for the program, building off a trip to the WNIT last season and added on top of the recent announcement that senior forwards Adryana Quezada and Kim Villalobos will be returning for their extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19.

One of the key reasons why the Scarlet and Black will have the opportunity to do so is their ability to pick themselves up, which has been a season-long trend.

For instance, taking it on the chin against then-No. 3 Stanford to start December was followed up with a gutty overtime win that kicked off SDSU’s season-best six-game winning streak.

Most recently, the Aztecs dusted themselves off after the fifth-largest loss in program history at then-No. 24 UNLV last Saturday and responded by holding Wyoming to the Cowgirls’ third-lowest scoring output in conference play.

“We have an older group, being able to look at each other and be accountable,” Villalobos said at the press conference.

For a team that lost back-to-back games only three times in Mountain West play, the conference tournament will be the ultimate opportunity to make that turn, and in turn, make a run.

Matchup: SDSU looking to complete season trifecta against Spartans

The saying goes that it’s hard to beat a team three times in the same campaign, but that’s exactly what the Aztecs are looking to do against SJSU.

“The (Spartans) are a really good team and are coached really well,” Terry-Hutson said. “They play really hard, they’re gritty and can score at all three levels.”

SDSU won the home meeting 63-51 on Jan. 20 — which was nationally broadcast on FS1. Quezada led the way with 15 points and 10 rebounds as the Aztecs went ahead for good at the 7:11 mark of the first quarter and built a 20 point lead at the half after holding the Spartans to nine points in the second quarter.

The second meeting was much closer, with SDSU overcoming an 8-point first quarter deficit and getting the game winner from Jada Lewis with nine seconds remaining in their 63-62 road win on Feb. 10. Lewis and Quezada both scored 15 points to pace the Scarlet and Black, while Sarah Barcello scored 13 points after notching 10 in the first meeting.

Junior forward/center Amhyia Moreland led the Spartans with 18 points in both games, with freshman guard Syndi Summers scoring 14 and 11, and sophomore guard/forward Sofia Kelemeni coming off the bench to score 12 in San José.

Moreland posted the third-best field goal percentage at 52.4% and was fifth with 1.29 blocks per game in Mountain West Conference play, while ranking 11th with 12.29 points and 14th in rebounding at 5.71 — though her 2.65 offensive rebounding average was third-best. Summers averaged 2.0 3s per game, good for sixth, while Kelemeni tied for 10th with 2.89 assists per game. The duo of freshman Maya Anderson (tied for seventh) and sophomore Sabrina Ma (12th) also charted in steals per game.

The Spartans finished conference play in 10th place in both scoring offense (59.17 points per game) and defense (70.22 points against per), with the league-bottom turnover margin (-6.56) and 3-point defense (41.4% allowed). However, they are one of the best rebounding teams, finishing second with an average +3.33 margin and the second-best offensive rebound percentage (32.7%) while allowing the third-fewest rebounds by opponents (30.89) per game.

“(San José State) has nothing to lose and they’re going to come out and play hard,” Terry-Hutson said.

Last season SJSU upended the No. 7 seed Air Force to advance to the quarterfinals. The last time the Aztecs and Spartans tangled in the conference tourney, SJSU won the 8-9 first round matchup in 2017.

Vegas View: A look at the Aztecs’ potential tournament path

The winner of SDSU-SJSU will face No. 2 seed New Mexico on Monday at 4:30 p.m. — the Aztecs split the season series against the Lobos with a 60-53 win at Viejas Arena on Feb. 7 and dropped the road meeting 66-63 on Feb. 28.

In the semifinal on that side of the bracket, the winner of No. 3 seed Wyoming and either No. 6 seed Boise State or No. 11 Utah State awaits for a 7:30 p.m. tip on Tuesday.

“We’ve got to defend,” Terry-Hutson said. “You’re on somebody else’s court — we already talked about our struggles on the road, you’ve got to bring your defense to give yourself a chance to win four games.”

No. 1 seed UNLV is once again the chalk pick, having won the last two tournament titles, and were most recently ranked No. 23 in both national polls as well as 27th in the NET rankings for games through March 8. The Lady Rebels could be in for an interesting semifinal should they face No. 5 seed Colorado State, who is the next highest ranked Mountain West team in the NET at 102nd.

Last season San Diego State won a tournament game for the second-straight season and advanced to the semifinals for the first time since 2019.

The final turn of 2023-24 begins tomorrow.

“Defense is going to do it every game we play, it’s going to set the standard of the game, the pace and let our team dictate how the game’s going to go,” Villalobos said. “To think about the championship, we’ve got to win that first game first.”

About the Contributors
Eric Evelhoch
Eric Evelhoch, '23-24 Sports Editor
Eric Evelhoch (he/him/his) is a senior media studies major who was born outside of Detroit, Michigan, and lived in Ventura County, California, for a decade-plus. He is a returning college student and transfer from Santa Barbara City College, where he served as Sports Editor for The Channels. Evelhoch is also a Sports Director for KCR College Radio, where he restarted play-by-play coverage post-pandemic. Currently, he serves as the play-by-play broadcaster for the SDSU ACHA DI hockey team and has filled in on the call for Aztecs sports on the Mountain West Network. His prior freelance experience includes print, digital, online video and audio-only, and broadcast radio formats covering football, basketball, baseball, hockey, soccer and volleyball.
Chinedu Nwoffiah, Photographer
Chinedu Nwoffiah (he/him/his) is a fourth-year Communication major specializing in Digital & Social Media Studies. He has always had a passion for sports and storytelling and has been able to enhance his skills throughout his time at The Daily Aztec. Since joining in 2023, he has covered nearly every sport through photography and contributed as a writer, broadcaster, and multimedia specialist for men’s basketball.