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Game preview: SDSU opens MWC Tournament against Utah State

Aztecs look to open post-season play with a win over the Aggies

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

No. 8 San Diego St. Aztecs (27-3, 16-2 MWC) vs. Utah State Aggies (18-13, 7-11 MWC)

When: Thursday, March 13, 2014, 3 p.m. ET, 12 p.m. PT

Where: Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas, Nev.

TV: CBS Sports Network

Radio: SDSU broadcast is on The Mighty 1090 AM. USU broadcast is on KVNU 610 AM.

Last time they met: SDSU redshirt freshman Matt Shrigley had a breakout, 15-point performance in the midst of Xavier Thames' shooting slump, and the Aztecs won 60-45 in Viejas Arena earlier this February. The Aggies matched up against the Aztecs on the boards, grabbing 32 compared to SDSU's 33. But SDSU's defense proved too much to handle that night--the Aggies only shot 34%, well below their 45.5% season average.

Yesterday the Utah State Aggies demonstrated why conference tournaments excite so many college basketball fans: they give teams with no shot to make the Big Dance a fighting chance. Down 11 points with 2:40 to go against Colorado State in the opening round of the MWC Tournament, the Aggies roared back with four 3-pointers, stole the ball twice and took advantage of four CSU fouls, shooting 8-8 from the charity stripe. Utah State fought desperately to keep its hopes for the NCAA Tournament alive, and it was incredible to watch.

Despite already winning the MWC crown, SDSU Coach Steve Fisher told the press that this MWC Tournament would in no way be "anti-climatic" for his team.

"I think you have to have another challenge and motivation, and that's something to look forward to also," he said. "We're very excited about going (to Las Vegas) and playing. We won't be less motivated to win the conference because we won on Saturday. Hopefully we'll be more motivated to get greedy to get two championships in a span of a week."

Utah State's key to victory: Shoot lights out from 3-point range. In their near-victory against SDSU in January, the Aggies shot 50% from beyond the arc. In their embarrassing loss against SDSU, they only shot 38.5% from 3-point range. For a team that scores 30% of its points from long range, that's not very good. Knocking down threes will keep the Aggies within striking distance of the Aztecs, because SDSU often doesn't score for long periods of time. For instance, SDSU went over five and a half minutes without scoring in the second half of last Saturday's game against New Mexico. If Utah State can hit several threes during those scoreless stretches, this game could be closer than many expect.

SDSU's key to victory: I said that Dwayne Polee II and Winston Shepard were SDSU's keys to victory in February, and I'm saying it again now--USU simply has nobody that matches up with the athleticism of these two 6'7" and 6'8" players. Kyle Davis (6'7") is the only Aggie that can at least match up with Polee and Shepard's size. In Davis' only game against SDSU this year, Polee and Shepard held him to zero points and forced the sophomore forward to commit four turnovers. However, Polee and Shepard only put 7 points up on the board. If Polee and Shepard can replicate their defensive performance and also contribute offensively, the Aztecs should handle USU.

Prediction: SDSU wins 74-61.