Las Vegas, NV (SportsNetwork.com) - Coming off one of the most exciting wins in recent memory, the eight-ranked San Diego State Aztecs now set their sights on a bigger prize as they clash with the Utah State Aggies in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Conference Tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
While nothing is written in stone, the Aztecs are pretty much a lock for the NCAA Tournament already with their .900 winning percentage, but it never hurts to take care of business in the conference tournament just the same. San Diego State was able to claim the top seed in the 2014 version of the tourney thanks to a fantastic 51-48 win over New Mexico last Saturday, a game in which the Aztecs came back from 16 points down in the second half.
SDSU is the top seed in the tournament for the third time and managed to make it to the championship round in each of the two previous efforts. The squad was involved in the title tilt four straight years between 2009-12, winning in both 2010 and 2011. Overall, the Aztecs have a league-best four championships and are 19-10 in the event since it began back in 2000.
Meanwhile, the Aggies are just getting their feet wet in the tourney, one of the newest defectors from the Western Athletic Conference to come over to the MWC. Yesterday, the eighth seed started off well with a 73-69 win over ninth- seeded Colorado State.
Unfortunately for the Aggies, they lost both regular-season meetings against SDSU, yet USU still maintains a slight edge in the all-time series at 3-2. The winner of this meeting will go up against the survivor of the Wyoming/UNLV battle in the semifinals on Friday.
Just 7-11 in conference play this season, the Aggies figured to have their hands full against Colorado State yesterday and that was exactly the case as USU won by just four points. Preston Medlin accounted for 17 points and five assists, followed by both Spencer Butterfield and TeNale Roland with 14 points apiece, the former shooting only 3-of-9 from the floor while the latter hit on 4-of-5 behind the 3-point line alone. Oddly enough, the Aggies knocked down only 40 percent from the field overall, but their accuracy beyond the arc (11- of-21) was reminiscent of their dominating efforts in the WAC over the last decade or so.
Should the Aggies want to give San Diego State a run for the money, Jarred Shaw will have to be more of an influence after posting just seven points and pulling down eight rebounds while being hampered by foul trouble.
He may not have been the flashiest player in the Mountain West this season, but enough people thought he was the most important as Xavier Thames picked up the MWC Player of the Year award for the Aztecs. Thames started all 18 games in league play, averaging close to 33 minutes per outing, as he produced a hefty 17.8 ppg, even though his goal was to not always been the key figure in the scoring column. Thames made a team-best 23 3-pointers in those game and handed out 58 assists in order to keep Winston Shepard (12.2 ppg), JJ O'Brien (7.6 ppg) and Josh Davis (7.4 ppg) happy.
Clearly, scoring points at a frequent pace was not always the objective for SDSU, in fact the defense was much more of a concern and the team excelled in that area unlike few others nationally. On the season overall, opponents were limited to just 57.2 ppg, stemming from 38.5 percent accuracy from the field and a dismal 28.8 percent beyond the arc.