Aztecs set to move on to face Furman on Saturday
The Aztecs (28-6) brought their defensive prowess against The College of Charleston (31-4) on Thursday in Orlando and held them to 23 points below their season average in a 63-57 victory. The Aztecs were workmanlike, struggling on offense to gain any consistency. They shot nearly 43% from the field, were 4-16 from three and continued to struggle with free throws, making only 11-18. If the game were any closer, one might point to the ongoing struggles from the stripe, as serious causes for concern. A nice bright spot were 7 blocks by the Aztecs while out-rebounding the Cougars 40-34. Matt Bradley led the way with a solid 17-point, 7-rebound performance. Supporting him were Lamont Butler with 7 points, 2 rebounds, and 5 assists and Jaedon LeDee with 8 points and 10 rebounds coming off the bench. The Cougars were led by Ante Brzovic with 12 points, and 8 rebounds and Ryan Larson with 11 points. The Cougars conclude their most successful season in history finishing with 31 wins and four losses.
The final outcome was a measure of satisfaction after losing last year against Creighton in overtime. Matt Bradley was confident in his return to the big dance and exemplified the team leader tag. This was the first win for the Aztecs since 2015 and helped to snap an 11-game losing streak for the Mountain West Conference. The Aztecs overcame several scoring drought streaks, none more bigger than Bradley’s layout out of a timeout with 2:37 remaining. He hit two more free throws later to provide a comfortable margin. Athleticism and depth on defense proved the difference maker as the Aztecs controlled the paint both with rebounds as well as points in paint.
There is an elevated level of intensity and excitement when playing in the tournament. There is not much time to prepare for the other team, only to play your game. Each team is under heavier scrutiny, with the game favorites feeling additional pressure to not lose to a higher seed. We’ve seen several already today and the upsets are not finished. The Aztecs will take on the latest darlings, the Furman Paladins, or just the ‘Dins’. By the way, a Paladin has both historical references and character connotations, meaning someone who fights hard for something they believe in, a champion for a cause. They certainly showed this in their upset victory against Virginia. Aztecs and Paladins. Certainly meanings befitting these teams characters.