LAS VEGAS – Maybe the basketball gods felt sorry for San Diego State. Maybe they were just in a generous mood. Maybe, in a devious way, they wanted to make things interesting at the most interesting time of the year.
The Aztecs showed up at Thomas & Mack Center for their Mountain West tournament semifinal against No. 14 Nevada, only to learn that star forward Jordan Caroline wasn’t playing on account of some sort of foot or leg injury. Then, 64 seconds into the game, Wolf Pack leading scorer Caleb Martin picked up his second foul, went to the bench and wouldn’t make a basket until 12 minutes remained.
In many ways, it became a referendum on their season: Could an Aztecs team, filled with equal parts promise and disappointment, capitalize?
The answer: Yes.
The fourth-seeded Aztecs blew a 13-point lead along the way and had to come back in the closing minutes when their offense suddenly went sideways, but the 65-56 victory Friday night against the top-seeded Wolf Pack put them into Saturday’s 3 p.m. final on CBS.
They’ll face the winner of the late semifinal between Utah State and Fresno State for an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.
If they get there, the Aztecs (21-12) will have taken a similar path as last year – a 19-win regular season, an 11-7 conference record, winning the 4-5 quarterfinal, then upsetting a ranked Nevada team in the semis.
The incredible part: The Aztecs lost to this same Nevada team by 28 just six days earlier in Reno.
The difference this time, obviously, was the absence of Caroline and Martin for all but 64 seconds of the first half. And an Aztecs team that didn’t give up when the inevitable Wolf Pack surge came in the second half.
Devin Watson led SDSU with 19 points, five rebounds and five assists. More importantly, he was 4 of 7 behind the arc after missing his final 10 long-range attempts in Thursday’s win against UNLV.
Jalen McDaniels had a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) before fouling out. Matt Mitchell had 11 points after not making a basket against UNLV, and Jeremy Hemsley had 10 after going scoreless for the first 36 1/2 minutes Thursday.
Cody Martin had 16 points, but the Wolf Pack got only eight points from his twin brother and Caroline – 29 below their combined averages. Corey Henson, who started in Caroline’s place, did not have a point or rebound in 23 minutes.
By the end of the first half, a third starter had joined them on the bench. Trey Porter tangled with McDaniels on a rebound and crashed to the floor with a cut over his right eye. The officials reviewed the video and determined that Porter, to literally add insult to injury, had committed a flagrant foul.
That gave McDaniels a pair of free throws, which he missed.
It was a common theme, though, as the Aztecs closed the half shooting 1 of 10 and had only one basket in the final four minutes. Nevada wasn’t any better, also going 1 of …read more
Source:: Daily times