In a Mountain West Tournament Championship between two of the most proficient offenses across the Mountain West, defense and rebounding was the biggest story — though it ultimately favored the stingy San Diego State Aztecs, earning the Mountain West Title on Saturday with their 62-57 victory over the Utah State Aggies.
San Diego State, appearing in their sixth consecutive conference title game, held the conference’s most efficient offense to 37.1 percent shooting, including 4-of-24 (16.7 percent) from 3-point range; in all fairness, San Diego State wasn’t any more efficient, knocking down two of their 19 3-point attempts, but made 13 more free throws, including 11 more in the second half.
Matt Bradley led the Aztecs with 16 points on 6-of-14 shooting with Jaedon recording 13 points — their only other double figure scorer. Steven Ashworth spearheaded Utah State’s attack with 13 points on 5-of-13 shooting while Trevin Dorius, who averaged 5.9 points this season, had 12 points with six rebounds.
Outside of those aforementioned pair, Utah State went 12-for-38 (31.6 percent), including a combined 6-of-28 from Taylor Funk, Sean Bairstow and Max Shulga.
Saturday marked San Diego State’s second Mountain West Tournament title since 2017-18, and the second consecutive season in which the conference’s regular season champion has won the tournament.
Much like it was for most of the afternoon, it was a rugged start for both offenses, making just eight of its first 28 combined attempts. But Utah State’s offense picked up the pace, while the Aztec attack flew behind the 8-ball, failing to create many advantages or convert any layups.
Funk’s 3-pointer gave Utah State an early 12-9 lead. Zee Hamoda’s corner three widened it to 26-15 — capping off a 20-5 Aggies run with less than seven minutes remaining in the opening half.
Though San Diego State began to ramp up its defensively pressure without Ashworth on the floor (foul trouble), as well as continuing to dominate the offensive glass — which generated plenty of extra opportunities. A second-chance triple from SDSU sniper Adam Seiko brought the deficit to one — 29-28 — which would be the score heading into halftime.
Utah State missed their final eight attempts heading into the break, shooting just 36.7 percent in the first half. SDSU, meanwhile, shot 30.7 percent and was just 1-of-7 from deep (USU was 2-9 3P).
Bradley’s corner 3-pointer gave the Aztecs their first lead since it led 10-9. Utah State scored only eight points over a 15-minute stretch (6:57 in first half to 11:16 in the 2H) before Shulga, Dorius and Funk each got a bucket apiece to trim it to 44-40 with 9:17 left.
After San Diego State increased its advantage to 53-46 with 3:03 to go, Utah State went on a mini 7-2 run — capped by Ashworth’s 3-pointer — with 30.3 seconds left, though a bad pass out of bounds followed by a Taylor Funk miss from distance all but sealed Utah State’s fate.
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