San Diego State started off down seven but finished out the first half with a five point lead, 29-24 over the UNLV Runnin' Rebels. The Aztecs finished off the game 59-51 to move on to the Mountain West tournament championship game on Saturday.
Xavier Thames led the Aztecs in the first half with nine points and three assists. Khem Birch, hip flexor and all, was strong for UNLV, with six points, nine rebounds and two blocks in the first half. The Rebels shot 43.5% from the field and held the Aztecs to 33.3%. But San Diego State knocked down a couple of first-half three pointers compared to none for the Rebels and had three fewer turnovers.
In the second half, it was a 12-0 Aztecs run fueled by three pointers from Dwayne Polee II and Matt Shrigley that helped the Aztecs take a double-digit lead, which they kept for much of the second half. Polee had 18 points to lead all scorers. He was 3-of-5 on three pointers and was 7-of-8 from the free throw line. Polee also had six rebounds to tie Josh Davis as the rebounding leader for the Aztecs.
Birch was held scoreless in the second half but did add six more rebounds and three more blocks to his game total. Roscoe Smith had a quiet night. He was limited to eight points and four rebounds. Bryce Dejean-Jones made two three-pointers in the final 1:05 to narrow the margin of victory. He finished with 10 points.
Deville Smith was the surprise scoring leader for the Rebels. He finished the game with 17 points.
Xavier Thames finished with 17 points and six assists, showing the team leadership that helped him win the MWC Player of the Year honors.
The Aztecs have won the MWC tournament four times. In each of their prior tournament championship runs, they have beaten UNLV along the way. So while SDSU head coach Steve Fisher doesn't like playing the tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center, they have had a lot of success there.
San Diego State will face the winner of New Mexico and Boise State for the conference tournament crown.