LAS VEGAS — During San Diego State’s first open practice of the season in November, fans and media members witnessed the team dancing in a circle to conclude practice. After the Aztecs celebrated the Mountain West Conference regular-season title after the final home game of the season on Feb. 29 at Viejas Arena, there was more dancing.
Now after winning the MWC Tournament championship, SDSU is dancing again – literally and figuratively.
The Aztecs are headed to the NCAAs for the third time in the last four years and the ninth time in program history after defeating the New Mexico Lobos, 57-43, in the MWC Tournament title game. In 2010, the last time SDSU made the NCAA Tournament, it made the Sweet 16 round.
ESPN bracketology currently has the Aztecs as a No. 14 seed, but head coach Beth Burns doesn’t care.
“The key phrase is they have us as ‘a seed,’” Burns said. “You see San Diego State. That’s the first step.”
Chelsea Hopkins named Tournament MVP
Back in her hometown of Las Vegas, Hopkins did not disappoint in her first MW Tournament.
After scoring 19 points and pulling down eight rebounds against Air Force in the opening game of the tournament, Hopkins followed up with a 16-point, 10-assist performance against Wyoming in the semifinals. In the title game, she finished with 14 points and four steals to earn Tournament Most Valuable Player and a spot on the All-Tournament team. Also named to the All-Tournament team was junior guard Courtney Clements and junior center Malia Nahinu.
“Honestly, I attribute everything to my teammates,” Hopkins said. “I’m doing whatever it takes to win. I know having my teammates back me, counting on me to lead, help this team rally, is really what was my motivation for the tournament and the success that we had.”
First half struggles
Most basketball coaches and players would prefer to get off to a fast start. Not only does a fast start build a team’s confidence for the rest of the game, but it also puts the opposing team into an early hole that is often difficult to overcome.
The way the first half played out was not how either team would have preferred it. After shooting almost 58 percent in the first half in their win against Wyoming on Friday, the Aztecs came out and shot 24 percent (7-for-29) against the Lobos in the finals. The Lobos did not do much better, only shooting 5-for-19, good enough for 26 percent.
“I think we came out so strong, all the adrenaline went away, and we weren’t as focused as we usually are,” junior guard Courtney Clements said. “It was a little bit frustrating. We knew we were going to bounce back. (At) halftime we kind of refocused and we came out strong in the second half.”
Defense and turnovers translate to points for Aztecs
It’s no secret SDSU can play defense. By all accounts it led the Mountain West Conference in overall defense during the regular season, only allowing opponents to score an average of 54.5 points per game.
When it came time to determine whether the Aztecs’ season could be finished or if they earn an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament by way of a MWC Tournament title, SDSU did what it does best: lock down opponents and force turnovers.
After holding the Lobos to only 43 points total, including just 15 in the first half, the Aztecs forced 16 turnovers leading to 15 points. This is compared to the two points the Lobos scored from SDSU turnovers.
“San Diego State is a very good defensive team,” New Mexico head coach Yvonne Sanchez said. “You got to give them credit. They do a nice job. We tried to execute what we could.”