Aztecs going to first Final Four
Aztec Guard Darrion Trammell made the second of two free throws to give the Aztecs a 57-56 victory over Creighton Sunday afternoon in Louisville. It was not without some last-second drama. With the game tied at 56, Trammell took a handoff from Aguek Arop and drove towards the basket, launching a floater towards the basket. It came up short, but the referees blew a whistle on Creighton guard Ryan Nembhard. Replays showed his arm pushing Trammell, altering his shot. Being awarded two free throws, Trammell added to the drama by missing the first. He calmly sank the second shot setting Creighton up with the ball with 1.2 seconds remaining down by one.
On the ensuing inbounds, Creighton guard Baylor Scheierman, a former high school quarterback, launched a full-court missile. Both Creighton’s Arthur Kaluma and San Diego State’s Arop jumped for the ball and it deflected out of bounds. The Aztecs celebrated prematurely, but the officials reviewed the play and after a dramatic pause, ruled that the clock had expired. Now the Aztecs (and their contingent of fans), began to celebrate. What this means is the first Final Four in school history, as well as the first Final Four for a Mountain West team. This is the Aztecs 6th season under coach Brian Dutcher, who has continued the success started with Steve Fisher. They will take on Florida Atlantic University, winners of the East Regional Saturday evening from NRG Stadium in Houston.
Creighton (24-13) was led by Ryan Kalkbrenner with 17 points and 6 rebounds. He was a force inside and the Aztecs struggled early on to contain him. Baylor Scheierman provided 12 points and 9 rebounds, with Arthur Kaluma contributing 12 points and 5 rebounds. Rounding out the scoring was Trey Alexander with eight and Ryan Nembhard with 7. Of note, the bench did not score and only contributed 16 minutes of support. A lack of adequate depth surely was a telltale sign that doomed Creighton.
As for the Aztecs (31-6) , they continued their balanced offense led by Lamont Butler with 18 points, Darrion Trammell with twelve, Nathan Mensah with eight, Keshad Johnson with 5 and Matt Bradley with two. Off the bench, Aguek Arop scored six and Jaedon Ledee with an additional six. Both teams were cold from the field shooting 40% and 38% respectively. The cold shooting continued with beyond the arc with the Blue Jays making only 2/17 and the Aztecs with 3/13. A key stat was the Aztecs outrebounding Creighton 35-32, especially a 12-8 advantage on the offensive boards.
Obviously, the Aztec defense continues to carry the season. They have held opponents well below their average scoring and shooting percentage. They will face another formidable opponent in FAU next week. What is needed are players to continue to step up when they are down. Against Alabama, Butler and Bradley contributed only ten points, but Trammell scored 21 points. Against Creighton, Bradley only managed two points, but others did just enough to carry the day. Oddsmakers have established the Aztecs as an early two-point favorite. Will being favored work to the Aztec's advantage or disadvantage? At this point, the Aztecs will be basking in the enjoyment of their success. But only for the plane trip back to San Diego. Back to work tomorrow to prepare for the biggest weekend in Aztec history, One shining moment continues to live on The Mesa.