San Diego State and Fresno State will meet for the Mountain West Championship and, more importantly, an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
The top seeded Aztecs got to the finals by defeating 5th seeded Nevada 67-55 in the semifinals. San Diego State did what they do best, play defense. They forced Nevada into 20 turnovers and held the Wolf Pack to their second lowest point total of the season (since they scored 54 on January 23 vs. San Diego State).
In the first half, the Aztecs raced out to a ten-point halftime lead behind a suffocating defense. They caused 8 turnovers in the first half, which led directly to ten points, and held the Wolf Pack to just 31 percent shooting.
Early in the second half, Nevada mounted a comeback that tied the game with less than 12 minutes to play. From there it was the Trey Kell show. Kell, who only scored two points in the first half, scored 13 in the second and finished with a team leading 15 points. The Aztecs were able to keep the Wolf Pack at bay and hit enough free throws at the end to seal the win.
Winston Shepard ended the game with 13 points and seven rebounds. Dakarai Allen chipped in 11 points, five rebounds, and four steals, while playing lockdown defense. Zylan Cheatham finished with 11 points and was the fourth Aztec to reach double figures in scoring.
Fresno State defeated Colorado State, 64-56, in the second semifinal of the Mountain West tournament. The Bulldogs took advantage of Colorado State missing their top rebounder Emmanuel Omogbo and punished the Rams in the paint.
In the first half the Rams were hot from behind the three-point line and pushed the lead to 11. Then all of a sudden they went cold and the Bulldogs brought the deficit down to one at halftime.
Colorado State's poor shooting continued in the second half and the Bulldogs came out and quickly took the lead. Fresno State pushed the lead to double digits, but the Rams ability to get to the free throw line kept them in the game. In the end Colorado's State poor shooting couldn't keep up with Marvelle Harris (19points) and Karachi Edo (14 points and 8 rebounds).
Now the Aztecs and Bulldogs meet in a one versus two matchup for an opportunity to get to the NCAA tournament. San Diego State has a chance to get an at large berth with their win over Nevada, however they don't want to leave the decision in the committee's hand. Fresno State needs to win the game to make the Big Dance, if not they will likely be head to the CBI or some other postseason tournament.
San Diego State has been successful in having teams play their game and that has led them to their 20 Mountain West wins. The keys tomorrow for the Aztecs will be to play solid defense, limit turnovers, and win the rebounding the battle. Expect to see Allen on Harris and Skylar Spencer on Edo.
If those two players can shut both of the Bulldogs then it will bode well for them. At times the Aztecs can be careless with the ball, tomorrow cannot be that day. Finally the Aztecs will need to win the rebound battle in order to not give up easy baskets and to get some of their own. Those three keys will lead to an Aztec victory.
Fresno State will need to counteract the Aztec game plan. First they cannot let the Aztec defense dictate the game. They will need to be able to run their sets offensively and score easy baskets.
The Bulldogs will need to score and scoring off San Diego State turnovers will be important when playing against one of the best half court defenses in the nation. Fresno State will also need to win the battle of the boards to score as many easy points as possible and stop the Aztecs from getting second chance opportunities.
Tomorrow will be a great game between the top two teams in the Mountain West. Tip is at 6 PM EST on CBS. A title and a ticket to the Big Dance are on the line.