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Mitchell’s big second half carries San Diego State to championship game

The Aztecs are off to the championship game for the fourth year in a row. 

NCAA Basketball: Mountain West Conference Tournament- San Diego St vs Nevada Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Mitchell only scored eight points in San Diego State’s quarterfinal win against Wyoming, his four free throws late did help secure the game for the Aztecs, but Mitchell knew he had to get himself going and step up in their semifinal game against Nevada.

After only scoring five points in the first half and making one of seven shots, Mitchell turned it on in the second half as he scored 15 straight points at the beginning of the second half, as he led the Aztecs to a 77-70 victory and advanced to the Mountain West championship game for the fourth straight year.

“I could not be more pleased with the way we played today, [for] playing back-to-back games and for the energy we came out with against a very good Nevada team. Steve Alford does a great job and his team was well prepared. They (Nevada) play hard and they are hard to guard, but we found a way to make enough timely plays to get a win and get back to the championship game in the Mountain West.”

19 of Mitchell’s 24 points came in the second half where he made five of his eight shots and three 3-pointers. All season long San Diego State has relied on its depth and veteran experience to get through this unique season. Anybody can get going any given night and the Aztecs have worked to ride whoever is going for them offensively.

“Every night it is a different guy. Last night, Terrell (Gomez) at 20, tonight, Lamont (Butler) and Trey (Pulliam) got downhill on ball screens and caused havoc. It was good to see Matt (Mitchell) even though he missed some threes in the first half get his rhythm on the three-point shot—it makes us really dangerous when Matt’s making threes. We have contributions from everybody and it can vary from game to game and we ride that hot hand when we find it.”

It was needed last night as some Aztecs players got into foul trouble early, mainly forward Nathan Mensah who got two fouls in the first three minutes and did not play until the second half. Mensah fouled out with only 14 minutes played and zero points. In total the Aztecs were called for 15 fouls in the first half, which let Nevada get to the free throw line 19 times, making 16.

What San Diego State did capitalize on in the first half was Nevada turnovers. 12 first half turnovers for the Wolf Pack, including three apiece from Grant Sherfield and Desmond Cambridge, led to 10 Aztec points. Defensively, San Diego State gave both Cambridge and Sherfield issues.

Despite both players combining for 42 points, they were both very inefficient on the floor. The two combined for 10 of 30 shooting from the field and made only four 3-pointers on 15 shots attempts. 18 of those 42 points came from the free throw line. Dutcher said that they kept trying to switch to have a body on both players at all times, they were not going to let either of those two beat them.

“Our job was to stay in front of the ball and not let them (Nevada) get downhill,” Mitchell said. “We did a good job of staying in front of the ball and trying to contest all their shots but credit to those two guys (for the shots they made) because they are very tough shotmakers.”

Now San Diego State will meet Utah State for the third straight year in the Mountain West Conference championship game today at 3 p.m. PT on CBS. While the Aztecs are comfortably in, the Aggies are on the bubble and a win would make their Selection Sunday a whole lot less stressful.