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Aztecs and Broncos victorious in quarterfinal games

Rocky starts for both teams did not phase either one on its way to victories.

Mountain West Conference Basketball Tournament - Championship - San Diego State v New Mexico Photo by David Becker/Getty Images

#1 San Diego State 73, #9 Air Force 60

San Diego State has shown its vulnerability the past two weeks. They lost its first game of the season to UNLV two weeks ago, and last week they were down by double digits to UNR in the second half.

They appeared to be in trouble in its quarterfinal matchup against Air Force Thursday afternoon when they trailed by four at the half.

But just like 28 other times this season, the Aztecs put the bad first half behind them and dominated the second half on its way to a 73-60 victory.

Finding so many different ways to win and being in so many different circumstances, the Aztecs have been mentally ready for any situation thrown at them.

“…They don’t get rattled,” coach Brian Dutcher said, “they don’t overreact, they don’t worry about the score in the first half. They just go make a few adjustments, go out and just play with great confidence.”

“And that’s what winning teams do, they earn their confidence because they win games, but once you start gaining that confidence you don’t think you’re ever going to lose. So obviously this team doesn’t think it’s going to lose a game. Which is a good thing.”

The Aztecs utilized a 21-3 run in the second half to shift momentum on its side.

San Diego State stepped up the intensity on defense in the second half, which impacted Air Force’s shooting. The Falcons shot 27.3 percent from the field (6-22) and from three (3-11), after going 60 percent and 53.7 percent, respectively, in the first half.

“We upped our intensity and we guarded the ball harder and found a way to get out of here with a victory tonight,” Dutcher said.

Jordan Schakel, who had a team high 17 points, knocked down five three-pointers (a career high) to help the Aztecs shoot 50 percent from behind the arch in the second half.

Shackle had a slow first half, shooting 20 percent, but nothing differed, for him, from the first half to the second.

“Nothing different happened,” Shackle said. “Just had to keep shooting. My teammates continued to find me and continued to believe in me, so I thank them for that. But nothing really happened, just kept playing our game.”

Dutcher said Shackle is an “elite-level shooter,” and confidence is key for him. “We want him to shoot. If he’s open, he has to shoot. And shooting is confidence. So, if he loses confidence then even when he’s supposed to take it, he won’t, and he won’t make it.”

Mountain West Player of the Year Malachi Flynn had 16 points, seven rebounds, eight assists and three steals. Forward Yannie Wetzell also had 16, his contribution helped the Aztecs score 30 points in the paint, compared to the Falcons’ 12.

A.J. Walker scored 14 of his team high 18 points in the first half for the Falcons. Senior forward Ryan Swan fouled out and only had six points.

#5 Boise State 67, #4 UNLV 61

UNLV was the hottest team coming into the Mountain West Tournament. They had won five games in a row and were a popular dark horse to win the tournament.

But one of the biggest pieces to UNLV’s recent winning, Elijah Mitrou-Long, was not in action for the Rebels, and his absence was felt as UNLV struggled to score in its 67-61 loss to Boise State.

“It was going to go 40 minutes,” coach Leon Rice said, “and it took all 40 minutes to get the job done. But I was really proud of our guys.”

This game, the third meeting between both teams this year, was far different than the last game the two played, just about a week ago in the same building.

“…We came in here last week, and they handed us our hats, and we responded the right way,” Rice said, “like these guys always do, and they adjusted some things, and it was on them.”

One of the adjustments the Broncos made was packing the paint and making it difficult for the Rebels to score inside. UNLV shot 33 percent on its shots in the paint. Offensively, Boise State had a plus ten advantage on points in the paint.

“Obviously like I said,” Derrick Alston said, “they kind of torched us in the paint last game, and we knew that was going to be a big factor, and just trusting the game plan, trusting each other and just faith in each other knowing that we can get it done.”

Both teams had poor shooting nights. Boise State went 37 percent from the field and 20 percent from three. The Rebels were not much better from the field, shooting 32 percent. They did improve in the second half from three, making five of 12, and were 35 percent overall.

The two teams had long stretches where they did not make a field goal. Boise State had a point in the first half where they went over seven minutes without a field goal, and the Rebels had a nearly five-minute stretch without a field goal.

The biggest difference in the stat sheet was free-throws. Boise State made 22 of 29, while the Rebels missed 10 on the night.

RJ Williams, who fouled out with eight minutes left in the second half, had 23 points and 15 rebounds to lead Boise State. Justinian Jessup had 19 points and Alston had 14 points.

Bryce Hamilton led UNLV in scoring with 24 points. Amauri Hardy had 14 and Jonah Antonio scored 13 points.

Without Mitrou-Long, the Rebels were impacted on its offensive production. The remaining five players who played for UNLV scored a total of 10 points.

San Diego State and Boise State will square off in the first semifinal tomorrow at 6:00 pm (PT).