SDSU’s reward for owning the Mountain—getting dirty in the South vs College of Charleston

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The road to winning the Mountain West conference regular season was as arduous as one would expect. The quality of the league has undoubtedly risen the past few years, with higher performances especially from the bottom of the league,

In addition, the travel between many of the college town destinations take each team through mountains, adverse weather conditions and remote locations, making the trek worthy of planes, trains and sometimes automobiles.

Through it all SDSU won the regular season championship commandingly, finishing two games ahead of their closest follower, Boise State.

The tournament however is a different story. Having only won 3 in the last 14 years they have competed in the final game. Though the weeks events take place in a central location for all to participate in, this track record for the Aztecs shows just how difficult it is to capture both league titles.

After squeezing by Colorado State in the quarterfinals and racing passed San Jose State in the semifinals, Brian Dutcher and his Aztecs took down the Utah State Aggies 62-57. And they did it by doing what they always do best—defense & rebounding.

The matchup between the Aztecs & Aggies was expected to be chippy. Losing to a team twice in regular season already is a tough pill to swallow for anyone. USU coach Odom had pulled out all the stops in his attempt to rattle the visiting Aztecs back in February. When that didn’t work and the Aggies still lost, they played the rest of the season with a chip on their shoulder.

So when USU pulled ahead of SDSU in this championship game by as many as 11 points late in the 1st half, it was no question they were motivated to beat the Aztecs.

For SDSU, falling behind early was more of a collection of missed close shots and defensive mental lapses than most are used to. The flow of the game offensively led to many close shots near the basket, but unfortunately many were rimming in & out producing empty possessions.

On the defensive side, the Aztecs were getting some quality stops, but the Aggies pick & roll was often leaving them out of position and USU was more than willing to knock down some uncontested dunks and floaters on their way to the big lead.

The Game-changers

The Aztecs turned the game around with the emergence of senior forward Jaedon LeDee. His 13 points & 10 rebounds was fueled by his mid range game heating up. Once those buckets kept falling, LeDee’s activity on the offensive boards signaled that he was simply the most physically dominant player on the court. His 7 free throw attempts kept Aggie defenders completely out of sorts.

Early in the 2nd half as the Aztecs began to steadily chip away at the deficit and with the shot clock winding away, LeDee took the ball down in the key and put the Aggie defender in the spin cycle.

Ledee’s clutch performance was the sparkplug, but this was a total team victory as usual. Each Aztec that appeared in the game scored at least 1 point and Matt Bradley’s steady 16 points carried the team through as well on his say to earning MVP honors for his stretch thoughout the tournament.

In the Aggies free-fall of giving up the lead, they missed 19 of 21 shots over the course of the end of the first half spilling into early in the 2nd half. More importantly in this drought, the strong defense and depth of SDSU was able to stop them from doing what they do best—shoot the three. Utah State finished the night 4 of 24 from behind the arc.

With Steven Ashworth on the bench for large chunks due to foul trouble, the out of sorts Aggies had to scramble at the end to try and get back into any kind of winning position. And that’s when things got interesting.

Loose Ends

With the Aztecs now flipping the momentum and holding onto control of the score up by 7 points, the most head-scratching move of the game came with under two minutes left. With that 7 point cushion and the shot clock running out, Matt Bradley tossed up an airball when the offense was not creating motion.

Coach Dutcher then made wholesale personnel changes on the court—removing top scorers Bradley, LeDee, and Trammell. Almost immediately the Aggies scored 4 quick points on two lightly contested possessions. The game would against inch closer and closer as a turnover and missed shot gave USU multiple opportunities to tie it up in a one possession game.

Despite a late 3 by Ashworth, the Aggie’s made some costly blunders of their own and just could not overcome the defensive pressure from the Aztecs.

Adam Seiko & the Aztecs hit their free throws of which they connected on 20-26 of. The uncharacteristically bad Aggies went just 7 of 14. And there you have it, the Aztecs own the mountain with the clean sweep of Utah State and Brian Dutcher will have banners & championship rings to prove it.

After all the nets were cut down, selection Sunday came about with pros and cons. The good news, SDSU was awarded a #5 seed. The not so good, they would be sent to the South bracket and scheduled a game on the east coast for the first round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament on Thursday, March 16th in Orlando, Florida.

Their opponent in the notorious seed matchup of #5 vs #12—the College of Charleston Cougars and the game will be televised on TruTv at 12:05pm PST for those on the West coast.

This will be Charleston’s sixth NCAA tournament appearance and their first tournament since 2018 while as the #13 seed they lost by just 4 points to then #4 Auburn. The Cougars NCAA tournament record stands at 1-5 with their last victory dating back to 1997 when they were also a #5 seed and were victorious over Maryland.

Having an overall record of 31-3 after winning the CAA shines a light on the Cougars as a clear winner in their league. Having beaten common opponent Colorado State by 10 points shows they have the fire power offensively to hang with teams in the Mountain West. But do they have the defense?

Tune in tonight Monday, March 13 at 8pm on our YouTube channel and join our Livestream as we discuss all about the Mountain West Tournament and the upcoming NCAA matchup vs Charleston.

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