SDSU one win away from back-to-back Mountain West Tournament titles, face Utah State in final


Raymond Gorospe

Senior guard Devin Watson launches a 3-pointer over two Nevada defenders during the Aztecs’ 65-56 victory on March 16 at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas.

by Aaron Tolentino, Assistant Sports Editor

San Diego State men’s basketball will be playing in the Mountain West championship game for the second year in a row and the ninth time in the last 11 seasons.

The Scarlet and Black will face No. 2 Utah State at 3 p.m. on Saturday at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas.

No. 4 SDSU split the season series with Utah State – winning 68-63 at home and losing 70-54 on the road.

But this time a conference championship and a trip to the NCAA Tournament will be at stake.

The Aggies are fresh off a 85-60 beatdown of Fresno State in Friday’s semifinals while SDSU handled No. 1 Nevada 65-56.

Utah State’s 25-point victory was fueled by performances by junior guards Sam Merrill and Diogo Brito.

Brito scored 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting while Merrill had 22 points, also on 8-of-15 shooting, and said he expects SDSU senior guard Jeremy Hemsley to guard him.

“(SDSU) had the same guy on me for the last two games,” Merrill said. “I’m sure it will be Hemsley again, but we’ll see.”

The reigning Mountain West Player of the Year, who is also the Aggies’ leading scorer with 21.1 points per game, scored 35 points in San Diego on Feb. 9 and dropped 19 on Feb. 26 in Logan, Utah.

SDSU’s leading scorer from the semifinal, senior guard Devin Watson, is coming off of a 20-point performance to go along with five rebounds and five assists.

Watson’s back has bothered him all week and has missed practice time, but he said his health is improving for the conference title game.

“It’s feeling a little bit better,” he said. “I just continue to get my treatments in. I’ll be ready for tomorrow.”

Just like last year when the Aztecs had to win three straight elimination games to win the tournament, Hemsley said his team takes it up a level during games like these.

“It’s win or go home,” Hemsley said. “If that’s the task at hand, you have to up your game and you have to play at that elite level if you want to go further in March.”

Merrill said SDSU’s experience in championship games will make them formidable.

“We know they’re very physical,” he said. “They played in this game last year and won it, so they’re very talented. They defend well. We have, obviously, all the respect in the world for San Diego State, so we expect it will be a battle for sure.”