After a chaotic first two days of the Mountain West Tournament, we entered Friday down to four! How did the semifinals shape up? Let’s dig into it and find out!
(1) San Diego State 64 vs. (8) San Jose State 49
The San Jose State Spartans’ pixie dust did not make its way inside Thomas & Mack Center on Friday night.
The powerhouse Aztecs ultimately booked their sixth straight ticket to the Mountain West Title game with their 64-49 victory over the Spartans, leading by double-digits for the final 24:27 of the contest.
San Diego State suffocated the Spartans attack, holding them to 34.5 percent shooting with 13 turnovers. That included the Mountain West player of the year Omari Moore, whose historic Thursday outing was quickly wiped away by Lamont Butler and SDSU’s defensive stalwarts.
Moore finished with seven points after scoring five of SJSU’s first eight points — and was limited in-part due to San Diego State’s very active and connected switching defense. Alvaro Cardenas also struggled to self-create much offense, recording only four points on 2-of-10 shooting, despite recording six assists.
Only one SJSU player — Tibet Gorener — scored more than eight points and made more than three field goals. He finished with 15 points on 3-of-8 shooting from 3-point range. Keshad Johnson and Darrion Trammell had 15 points apiece; Johnson went a near-perfect 6-of-7 while Trammell sunk two of his four 3-point tries.
San Jose State had a 13:36 stretch where they scored just four points before Gorener’s triple trimmed the Aztec advantage to 10 with 2:39 left in the opening half. San Diego State entered the break with 33-20 lead, shooting 42.9 percent compared to SJSU’s 25.9 percent.
San Diego State led by as many as 19 until the final two minutes; even though the Spartans had a 3:30 stretch where they knocked down five straight field goals, they weren’t able to get within 14 points until Sage Tolbert’s two-handed slam cut it to 53-40 with under seven minutes left. But it wouldn’t remain like that for long. SDSU widened back to 15 with 5:39 left and wouldn’t let it slip below that threshold the rest of the way.
The Aztecs came to play, and they would not be denied after nearly letting the rope slip against Colorado State a day prior. Now, they’re in search of their second MW TItle championship since 2018 and third since 2011.
(3) Utah State 72 vs. (2) Boise State 62
It was a tale of two halves for the Utah State Aggies. But regardless, they not only notched their seventh straight win, but earned a berth to yet another Mountain West Title game and likely etched its name into the NCAA Tournament with its 72-62 win over the Boise State Broncos on Friday.
The Aggies, who were one of the nation’s most efficient offenses all season, outscored its counterpart 44-26 in the second half. They might’ve missed 12 of their first 13 triples, but they finished the evening 9-of-29 from beyond the arc, including 6-of-14 in the second half after upping the tempo and generating better looks within its halfcourt actions.
USU also ramped the pressure on the defensively. Boise State missed 17 of its final 20 field goal attempts, including a scoreless streak that lasted from 4:46 to 2:05 that saw a deficit bloat from three to eight, when it became too-little, too-late.
USU’s Taylor Funk, nor Boise State’s Max Rice — two of their team’s most potent long-range snipers — couldn’t get going on the evening. Funk finished with seven points while Rice missed all six of his field goal attempts.
Max Shulga led the Aggies with 18 points on 5-of-11 shooting; RJ Eytle-Rock was a key cog off the bench, finishing with 13 points on 4-of-6 shooting while Steven Ashworth and Sean Bairstow finished with 14 and 12 points, respectively.
Boise State was led by Marcus Shaver Jr. and Naje Smith, who finished with 14 points apiece. It shot just 27.6 percent in the second half and 1-of-9 from distance.
Utah State missed its first six triples before Shulga knocked down its first triple with under 12 minutes remaining in the opening half. The Aggies went on a scoring drought for 3:43 until two Shulga free throws put the deficit at six — 26-20 — with 5:41 left in the opening half.
The story of the first half was Utah State’s shooting — it featured a 63.0 percent 3-point rate (3PA per FG), but only canned three triples. Boise State went 14-for-26 (53.8 percent) and only 3-of-5 from distance, leading by eight (36-28). Both USU’s Sean Bairstow and Boise’s Tyson Degenhart had nine points apiece heading into the break.
Neither team shot the ball effectively exiting halftime. A pair of free throws from RJ Eytle-Rock with 7:45 left gave Utah State its first lead of the second half, 51-49. His 3-pointer extended it to 56:51, prompting a Bronco timeout with 6:18 remaining.
The 3s started to fall for the Aggies. Two consecutive triples from Shulga made it 62-53 with under four minutes remaining. It went up by double digits courtesy of a pair of Dan Akin free throws and did not relinquish that advantage for the final 3:18 of the contest.
Don’t look now, but Utah State etched their second Quad 2 victory of the season. Though based on their other metrics, they should be a team that’s in — of course, they won’t have to worry if they win on Saturday, but that’s besides the point.
Mountain West Championship: (1) San Diego State vs. (3) Utah State, March 11 @ 3 p.m. PT, CBS:
Betting line: SDSU -2
All odds are via DraftKings Sportsbook, the official sportsbook partner of SB Nation.