Just two months ago, Utah State swept San Diego State convincingly in their two-game series. The Aztecs, who were without senior Matt Mitchell for the second game, had plenty of time to get ready for a potential third matchup with the Aggies in the conference tournament.
The last three meetings between Utah State and San Diego State were low scoring, physical, defensive struggles. So it wasn’t a surprise that their third meeting this season, and the third consecutive in the conference championship game was a physical, grind it out type of game.
In the third edition of Utah State vs San Diego State, the regular season champion Aztecs came out victorious with a 68-57 victory against the Aggies to go back to the NCAA Tournament and win its first conference tournament championship since 2018.
“To win a postseason conference tournament against a team that was our last loss [as we] we have not had a loss since January 16, and we lost two in a row to Utah State, and to think that two months later, we would meet them again in the championship game for the third straight year and be able to escape with a victory. I could not be prouder of this program, the coaches and the players that represented,” head coach Brian Dutcher said after the win.
San Diego State called on its defense to hold Utah State to 57 points. The Aggies only made three 3-pointers on 13 attempts and shot 37% from the field in the game. Neemias Queta was the only source of offense for the Aggies, with his 18 points, if you take away his seven of 11 shooting, Utah State only shot 29% from its other seven players.
A key matchup defensively for San Diego State was Jordan Schakel on Brock Miller. Schakel was all over Miller all day, Miller only had four points and made one field goal on six shot attempts. Miller’s ability to knock down 3-pointers were critical for the Aggies’ success on offense. The Aztecs also held Marco Anthony to one of six shooting and freshman Rollie Worster missed nine of 13 shots.
The Aztecs did just enough offensively to put away the Aggies. They made 14 of 25 second half shots and hit 12 free throws in the second half to pull away in the second half. Mitchell led the way with 14 points and Trey Pulliam added 10 points. So did Nathan Mensah, who fouled out last game, he grabbed down eight rebounds and had two blocked shots.
San Diego State has been able to go 10 players deep all season long and anybody is capable of having a big night any time they hit the floor. It was apparent that Utah State was getting a bit tired down the stretch given they had played the night before at 9:30 local time and only went eight deep in the game today.
“Our depth was definitely something that was important and paid off for us at the end. We had fresh lights down the stretch because we could rest players and [because] everybody that plays for us contributes, and a different player [steps up] every night...That is the beauty of this team, any given night anyone can step up, and that’s what makes us dangerous,” Dutcher said.”
San Diego State had 10 steals and forced 16 Utah State turnovers, which the Aztecs turned into 14 points. With the help of Mensah, the Aztecs also held a 40 to 26 advantage in points in the paint.
Now San Diego State, Utah State and the other two Mountain West bubble teams will wait for Selection Sunday. San Diego State should be a six of seven seed after winning the conference tournament. Utah State and Colorado State will have to sweat tomorrow out and see where the land. There are a few bid-stealers out there, Georgetown, Oregon State, and Memphis that could ruin their tournament chances.