San Diego State knew it wouldn’t stroll through the Mountain West Conference tournament.
Even though the Aztecs were the only team from the conference ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 at the end of the regular season, a number of other MWC teams finished within shouting distance.
After surviving their first test of the conference tourney, the top-seeded Aztecs will get another when they take on fifth-seeded San Jose State in a semifinal game on Friday evening in Las Vegas.
San Diego State won the only meeting against the Spartans this season, 72-51 on Jan. 28 in San Diego.
The Aztecs (25-6) took on eighth-seeded Colorado State in a quarterfinal game on Thursday afternoon and couldn’t gain separation for the entire 40 minutes of a 64-61 victory.
The Aztecs never led by more than five points and trailed for large chunks of the game, which featured 11 lead changes.
The Aztecs went ahead for good on two free throws by Jaedon LeDee with 1:20 remaining, but they still needed to survive a frantic final 10 seconds to hold on for the victory.
“It’s March basketball, every game is going to be like this,” San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher said. “Desperate teams trying to win, trying to play themselves into the (NCAA) Tournament.”
Depth has been a strongpoint for San Diego State this season, and that was the savior against the Rams.
Matt Bradley came into the game as the only player averaging double figures in scoring for the Aztecs at 13.0 per game, but seven others were averaging from 6.6 to 9.8 points.
Seven different players led San Diego State in scoring during conference play.
Lamont Butler paced the Aztecs in scoring for a third time this season in the tournament opener, scoring 16 points. Bradley added 13 and LeDee contributed 10 off the bench.
“We have great depth,” Dutcher said. “On any given night, a different player can lead us in scoring, one through nine, and so that makes us dangerous.”
San Jose State (20-12) picked up the first MWC tournament win in program history on Thursday — and its first tournament victory since the Spartans were in the Western Athletic Conference in 2011 — outlasting fourth-seeded Nevada to win 81-77 in overtime.
The Spartans joined the Mountain West in 2013. San Jose State has 20 wins for the first time since 1980-81.
“We’re tougher together longer is something I’ve used in my program for a long time,” San Jose State coach Tim Miles said. “We’ve got to be mentally tough, physically tough. We’ve got to be together, we’ve got to be really together, and we’ve got to do it longer than the next guy. It’s kind of that survivalist mentality.”
Spartans guard Omari Moore, the Mountain West Player of the Year, had 26 points and 10 assists in the win against Nevada.
The Aztecs contained Moore in their matchup on Jan. 28, however, holding him to 11 points, his second-lowest total in conference play.
Miles, who has also been the head coach at North Dakota State, Colorado State and Nebraska, is in his second season with the Spartans and likes where the program is heading.
“These guys have been tremendous, starting with Omari,” Miles said. “These guys bought in, they’re tough-minded. Coach is tough on them some days, but they dig in. They have great aspirations and they’re willing to do all the hard work that goes with it.”
–Field Level Media