San Diego State Breezes into MW Tournament Championship for a League-Record-Tying Eighth Time
By W.G. Ramirez
Special to TheMW.com
LAS VEGAS - San Diego State proved to be too much for short-handed Colorado State in Friday's semifinal of the 2015 Mountain West Men's Basketball Championship.
With their 56-43 win, the second-seeded Aztecs (26-7) advanced to Saturday's title game, where they'll face fourth-seeded Wyoming (24-9) at 3 p.m. PT.
And though San Diego State is in the title game for the sixth time in seven seasons, and advances to the championship game of the MW Tournament for a league-record-tying eighth time in school history, there wasn't a lot of celebration after the win.
"We were excited that we had an opportunity to get to that championship game. (But) I think when there are expectations, sometimes you flat line it a little bit," said San Diego State coach Steve Fisher, whose Aztecs have won four straight and eight of their last nine. "If you came in our locker room and saw the energy of our kids in the locker room when they came in, they were hugging and high fiving one another. They are appreciative of what they've done, respectful of our opponent, and determined that we're going to come back tomorrow and hopefully find another way to get a victory."
History will be on San Diego State's side, as the No. 2 seed has never lost in a championship game, sporting an 8-0 mark all-time. The Aztecs will be looking for their fifth MW Tournament title.
Colorado State vividly struggled without leading scorer J.J. Avila, who injured his ankle in Thursday's quarterfinal win against Fresno State.
"It helped tonight playing against Colorado State without their best player," San Diego State junior forward Winston Shepard said. "There was a couple times that a couple of us just got in the lane and the seas parted. No J.J. Avila in there. He has quick hands, gets a lot of steals. It helped us a lot that he wasn't in there."
Said Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy: "J.J. Avila could have played for us tonight. I mean, he was healthy enough to go, but we didn't want to... we're in the [NCAA] tournament. We just didn't want to risk anything. It just wasn't the right thing to do."
Even without him, and behind a valiant effort, the Rams got within five early in the second half when Gian Clavell hit a 3-pointer at the 19:08 mark. But the Aztecs responded with a 15-6 run to essentially put the game out of reach.
Shepard poured in eight of the Aztecs' points during the run. Shepard and Aqeel Quinn led San Diego State with 16 points apiece, while Dwayne Polee chipped in 12 points and six rebounds.
Six of the seven Rams who played contributed scoring-wise, while Stanton Kidd led CSU with 10 points and eight rebounds.
Colorado State dropped to 10-15 all-time in MW Tournament play, including a 1-5 mark in the semifinals. The Rams' 18 points tied a conference-tournament record for the lowest points scored in semifinal half. The Aztecs held Colorado State to the second-lowest points in a semifinal game.
Willie Ramirez is a Las Vegas-based freelance reporter and Southern Nevada correspondent for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter: @AP_WG