Kell and Pope come full-circle for one last tournament dance


Photo by Kelly Smiley

Malik Pope and Trey Kell embrace after the Aztecs won the Mountain West Conference tournament championship, 82-75, over New Mexico on March 10 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.

by Abraham Jewett, Sports Editor

San Diego State men’s basketball seniors Trey Kell and Malik Pope have been to the dance before.

The two co-captains came in together as freshman back in the 2014-15 season, which was also the year that the Aztecs made it to the NCAA tournament.

Both players averaged just over five points per game that year, and were right alongside their teammates as SDSU lost to Duke in the Round of 32.

It was nearly the last time the duo would ever get a taste of college basketball’s biggest stage.

“When Trey and Malik went their first year, it seemed like, ‘Well hell, maybe we’ll go three more,’” head coach Brian Dutcher said. “Then it turned out we got to their senior year, and we had to really play well to get them there for their senior year.”

It took a nine-game winning streak to propel the Aztecs back into the NCAA postseason, and no player came up bigger than Kell, who scored 18.3 points per game and was named MVP during the teams Mountain West Championship tournament run.

In the championship game against University of New Mexico, Kell scored a career-high 28 points, including 21 points in the second half to carry his team to victory.

For Kell, getting back to the tournament means a lot, after a season often ravaged by injuries and bad luck.

“It means a lot to me,” Kell said from the postgame podium in the Thomas & Mack Center on March 10. “Being there my freshman year in the tournament, and seeing what it’s like and everything like that, I wanted to get back so bad.”

Pope, who has been a consistent presence in the starting lineup since day one, sat up on the same podium, and said that there were no words to describe the excitement he feels to get back to the prestigious postseason tournament.

“I don’t think words can describe (our excitement) right now, to be honest. You can just see the smiles on our faces,” Pope said.

Pope was not finished, and said that while getting back was special, it is not the team’s ultimate goal.

“We’re not content, we’re not really satisfied, we’re definitely happy with the outcome, but we’re still hungry,”  he said.

The No. 11-seed Aztecs will be playing their first round games in Wichita, Kansas, starting with a matchup against No. 6-seed University of Houston.

After the team found out their seeding, opponent, and location on March 12, Kell was asked what his thoughts were on making the trip to Wichita.

“I don’t know anything about Wichita,” Kell said. “It’s all going to be new to me, but I don’t care where we go–Wichita, Alaska, Antarctica–I’m good. As long as we are in the tournament, then I’m good.”

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