Aztecs Take Down Broncos, 73-67
March 14, 2013
By Mick McGrane
LAS VEGAS - - In various quadrants of the San Diego State campus, it has come to be known as Viejas East, a venue where during early March the school's men's basketball team is annually assigned temporary housing before typically settling on a long-term lease.
If the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas isn't the next best thing to home for the Aztecs, it's right next door.
In turning back No. 5 seed Boise State 73-67 in Wednesday night's quarterfinals of the 2013 Reese's Mountain West Championship, the No. 4 seed Aztecs (22-9) inched ever closer to surpassing their own conference record of four consecutive appearances in the tournament finals.
Ahead lies a semifinal date with No. 1 seed New Mexico on Friday at 6 p.m. PT. The teams split during the regular season, with SDSU applying a stranglehold in a 55-34 home win on Jan. 26. The Lobos, 59-46 winners over Wyoming on Wednesday, atoned for their lowest-scoring performance in the shot clock era by turning back the Aztecs 70-60 on Feb. 27.
"Last year, a lot of people didn't think a lot of us," said SDSU junior guard and first-team All-MW selection Jamaal Franklin. "We all play with a chip on our shoulder every day. We want to win. Like Coach (Steve Fisher) said before, we've been in that championship four (straight) years. "We want to make it happen a fifth year."
SDSU, which has also pocketed a league-best four tournament titles, is now 15-7 in MW postseason games played at the Thomas & Mack. The last two times the Aztecs were a No. 4 seed, they advanced to the title game, winning in 2010.
But if Wednesday night was any indication, seeding would appear to mean about as much to SDSU as a calculator to a caveman.
Despite a second half stagger in which Boise State utilized a 14-0 run to take its only lead of the game at 51-50, the Aztecs were positively miserly in the opening 20 minutes.Throwing a net over Broncos standout guards Derrick Marks and Anthony Drmic, who ranked second and fifth, respectively, in MW scoring during the regular season, SDSU surged to a 30-19 lead with 3:14 left in the half.
Marks did not score a point in the opening 20 minutes, going 0-for-9 from the floor, while Drmic had seven points on 3-of-8 shooting. Withering under the duress of an SDSU defense that held the league's second-best shooting team to 32.1 percent in the first half and 34.9 percent on the night, Boise State finished 22-of-63 from the field. Drmic, who averaged a league-best 18.8 points in league play, finished 7-of-20 from the field while Marks, who had 27 points in the Broncos' 69-65 win over the Aztecs just five days earlier, was 4-of-22.
Fisher defined SDSU's defensive effort in the first half as its best of the season.
"The game plan going in was just pressuring the ball more and getting into them," said senior guard Chase Tapley, who finished with a season-high four steals while scoring 17 points. "We got a lot of deflections that led to fast breaks. That's what we need to do for 40 minutes; we can't do it for 20. But I liked our new concept, pressuring the ball and getting them out of their comfort zone on offense."
Said Fisher: "Only a coach that follows us intently could tell that what we did was different from what we did on Saturday against Boise. We told (our players) before the game that (the Broncos) run a lot of mumbo-jumbo, and that we had to move, move, move. Normally, we guard the three-point line. Tonight we went out and guarded the ball harder."
Franklin, who posted team highs of 19 points and eight rebounds, was 2-for-3 beyond the arc to improve to 12-of-21 from three-point range in league tournament games.
Meanwhile, junior point guard Xavier Thames, displaying little residual pain from a lower back strain that forced him to miss four of the team's first eight MW games, scored 18 points to finish in double figures for the third consecutive contest.
"One of the things that maybe gets lost on San Diego State is that they didn't have (Thames) for a lot of their games in January," said Boise State coach Leon Rice. "That kid has really improved their team. If they had had him (in January), that's a team that contends for a league title."
One now bidding for a record-setting fifth MW Tournament title.