LAS VEGAS — It wasn’t always pretty, but for the 30th time this season, the San Diego State men’s basketball team found a way to pull out a win and is well on its way to defending its Mountain West Conference Tournament title.
Malcolm Thomas fell two assists short of a triple-double (13 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists), Kawhi Leonard had 13 points and 12 boards and second-seeded SDSU used stifling defense to beat Utah 64-50 in the quarterfinals of the MWC Tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
“I thought we played exceptional defense, especially the first 30 minutes of the game,” SDSU’s head coach Steve Fisher said. “Our defense dictated everything that happened … That being said, at this stage, to hold a team to 50 points, to win by 14 points, you have to be happy.”
In the first 16 minutes of the first half, Utah’s 2-3 zone was effective in neutralizing the Aztecs’ offense. SDSU only had 14 points at the 6:31 mark, and looked sloppy to start the game.
But then SDSU got hot. With the Aztecs up 14-12, James Rahon and Leonard hit back-to-back 3′s to increase their lead to eight points. Over the final 6:17 of the half, SDSU broke the game open with a 16-3 run and went into halftime up 30-15. Utah’s 15 first-half point total was also the lowest in MWC Tournament history.
“We always put up four to five keys to the game,” Fisher said. “We always put up, ‘We want to have spurts.’ … We’re a team that has spurts. You maximize spurts by guarding hard, not turning the ball over. We had a couple of those in this game.”
Utah’s Will Clyburn had 19 second-half points for the Utes, who began the half scoring eight of the first 10 points. Utah cut the deficit to single digits with 15:30 left to play, but the Aztecs responded with a 7-0 run.
The Utes trailed by as many as 23 points midway through the second half, but went on a 19-8 run to get within 12 points with one minute left to play.
“Down the stretch we turned the ball over,” Fisher said. “I thought we got a little bit complacent and didn’t finish the last six or seven minutes in a fashion that was indicative of how we’d played for 33 minutes.”
The Aztecs’ next game is Friday night against UNLV, which is playing the tournament on its home court.
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