Everything came fairy easy for San Diego State most of the regular season. Most nights they easily cruised throughout the game and won comfortably. But as the season progressed, the target on its back grew larger and larger, and every night, they got everyone’s best shot.
Not only did the target grow on their back, but so did the attention around the program while they are making their run. Which has heightened criticism when they have shown moments of weakness.
After losing to UNLV, San Diego State faced uphill battles in its final two games of the regular season against Colorado State and UNR. And seeds of doubt began to sprout after a slow start to Air Force in its quarterfinal game.
Another slow start in its semifinal game against Boise State Friday night felt like another sign this Aztec team might not be as good as everyone thought they were, but in March, teams look to their best players to pick the team up when its down.
Behind Malachi Flynn and KJ Feagin, San Diego State proved that they are still that dominant team from early in the season in its 81-68 win over Boise State.
“We got off to a good start,” San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher said after the win, “made some shots, and then they went on an incredible run on us. I don’t know what the lead was, 16 points, something like that…they didn’t panic, they just fought their way back into it, tied it at halftime, and then it was a very competitive second half. And I’ve got good players and they make me look like a good coach many a night.”
Both teams went back and forth, trading baskets, early in the first half. Then Boise State went on its run, a 16-0 run that put them up 37-21. And as we’ve seen lately, no lead is safe against San Diego State.
The Aztecs mounted its own run, ending the first half in a 19-3 run to tie the game 40-40 at halftime.
The three ball was essential for San Diego State’s run, they hit 10 three’s in the first half and ended the game with 15 total makes.
In the second half, the Aztecs clamped down on defense. They forced the Broncos to shoot 22.2 percent in the second half, after going 57.7 percent in the first half. Also, they scored 17 points off 11 Boise State turnovers.
The recent close calls have not waived any confidence in this Aztec team. “They never think they’re out of a game,” Dutcher said. “There’s never an over-reaction in a timeout even when we’re down 16. They just keep chipping away and playing with great confidence. And if you don’t have confidence you have no chance and this team has great confidence.”
When they were facing a 16-point deficit, Dutcher said he wanted to put the ball in his best player’s hands, and that was Flynn, who had 22 points. Not only is Flynn able to knock down his own shot, he Is able to make plays for everyone else. Flynn wasn’t the only Aztec producing, KJ Feagin had 21 points and he made five three-pointers.
Even though they have lost a chance for a perfect season; they still have aspirations of being a one-seed for the NCAA Tournament in two weeks. Winning in the championship game tomorrow would certainly help that.
The Aztecs are making their third-straight appearance in the championship game. This time is far different than the previous two, where the Aztecs had to win in order to make the NCAA Tournament. This year, however, the Aztecs goals are not simply reaching the NCAA Tournament, they are much larger.
This year we know we’re going to the NCAA Tournament,” Duthcer said. “So, it’s just another feather in our cap, we can cut nets down again, but we’re focused beyond tomorrow night, we’re focused two weeks from now when the NCAA tournament starts. So, yeah, we want to win it in the worse way, but there’s not the same feeling as last year where it was, if we don’t win, our season ends.”
San Diego State will make its third straight appearance in the Mountain West championship when they face Utah State tomorrow at 2:30 pm (PT).