Aztecs seek redemption in Mountain West Conference tournament

After losing in conference title game last season, men’s basketball looks to win sixth Mountain West tournament title

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Kareem Jones

Senior guard KJ Feagin looks to get past a Colorado State defender in the Aztecs’ 66-60 win over the Rams on Feb. 25 at Viejas Arena.

by Kyle Betz, Assistant Sports Editor

Following its best finish to a regular season in program history, No. 1 seed San Diego State men’s basketball will attempt to win its sixth Mountain West tournament championship this weekend at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas.

The last time the Aztecs (28-1, 17-1 MWC)  won the Mountain West tournament was in 2018, when tournament MVP Trey Kell led the Aztecs to an 82-75 win over New Mexico and a berth to the first round of the NCAA tournament.

But after suffering a tough loss to Utah State in the tournament championship last year, the Scarlet and Black are looking for redemption.

With only one loss in conference play, SDSU enters the tournament as the No. 1 seed.

The regular season conference champions will take on No. 9 Air Force Thursday.

The Falcons (12-19, 5-13 MWC) defeated No. 8 seed Fresno State by a score of 77-70 Wednesday afternoon to advance to the tournament quarterfinals.

Air Force has never won a quarterfinals game in the history of the Mountain West tournament.

The Aztecs played Air Force last month, scoring their second-highest total this season in an 89-74 win on the road.

Thursday marks the first time since 2008 SDSU and Air Force will meet in the conference tournament.

If the Aztecs advance to the semifinal round Friday, they could potentially play No. 4 UNLV, who handed SDSU its only defeat of the season, 66-63, on Feb. 22 at Viejas Arena. SDSU pulled off a slim 4-point victory in Thomas and Mack against the Runnin’ Rebels a month prior.

But the Aztecs’ success this season was well recognized, as the team boasts several Mountain West All-Conference accolades heading into this weekend’s competition.

Junior guard Malachi Flynn was voted First Team All-Mountain West, Defensive Team and Mountain West Player and Defensive Player of the Year. The Washington State transfer led the team by averaging 17.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 1.8 steals per game. Aside from rebounds, Flynn led the Aztecs in all of those categories.

Flynn is the second player in conference history to win both Player and Defensive Player of the Year awards.

Head coach Brian Dutcher was voted Coach of the Year after leading the Aztecs to 26 straight wins to start the season, including seven straight weeks (and counting) as a top-five team in the AP Top 25 and Coaches Poll. 

‘‘(Dutcher) brings it every day,” senior guard KJ Feagin said. ‘‘He’s very deserving of all of the recognition. I want to have a great relationship with my head coach, I want to feel like we are on the same team. I want to feel that he has my back just as much as I have his. He has made me feel that way, and he’s supported me throughout the entire process.” 

Led by Dutcher, the Aztecs were the final unbeaten team in Division I for five weeks and reached as high as No. 4 in the AP Poll.

Other honors include junior forward Matt Mitchell (First Team), senior forward Yanni Wetzell (Second Team) and Feagin (Defensive Team and Honorable Mention).

Sophomore forward Nathan Mensah will not be available to return for the conference tournament, but Dutcher is hopeful Mensah will return in time for the first round of the NCAA tournament, per a tweet by CBS college basketball insider Jon Rothstein.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday, March 4 to include tidbits about the Aztecs’ quarterfinal matchup against Air Force.

Luis Lopez contributed to the reporting of this article.

Kyle Betz is a junior studying journalism. Follow him on Twitter @KyleBBetz.