The San Diego State men’s basketball team did Thursday what it could not do all season long, beat Fresno State. The Aztecs lost to the Bull Dogs on Jan. 17 at home and again on Feb. 6 in Fresno.
This time around, No. 5 seed SDSU beat the No. 4 seed Fresno State at Thomas & Mack Center in the quarterfinals of the 2018 Mountain West Men’s Basketball Championship in Las Vegas. This is the 11th-straight times SDSU has made it past the quarterfinals in the MW, making it one of the most successful teams in the tournament since the conference’s inception.
“We look like Aztec teams of old, where we can struggle through an offensive period or two because our defense is so strong,” Aztecs coach Brian Dutcher said. “And that has kind of spearheaded our seven-game streak right now.”
The Aztecs’ win came on the backs of their seniors, who scored the first 11 points of the game. Malik Pope scored 6, Trey Kell had 4 and Kameron Rooks had 1. It’s worth noting that in the previous two meetings against Fresno State that two of SDSU’s best players, Pope and Kell, were sidelined of injuries. Both were healthy this time around, something that wasn’t lost by Dutcher.
“When I took this job I told them I couldn’t think of two better seniors that I want by my side than these two with me, Malik and Trey, and I told them that when I was named many months ago,” Dutcher said. “And they’ve been the key to everything for us and me to be able to rely on them on the floor over this last season.”
Bull Dogs coach Rodney Terry agreed, a healthy Pope and Kell were part of the reason the Bull Dogs lost this time.
“You take Kell or Pope off the floor, it’s like taking Jaron off the floor for us,” Terry said. “That’s a big piece you’re missing.” Terry was referring to the Bull Dogs senior guard Jaron Hopkins, who suffered a season-ending foot injury Feb. 24 against Wyoming.
The Aztecs will now face No. 1 seed Nevada in the semifinals Friday, a team they beat just only six days ago in the season finale at home. The No. 22 Wolf Pack overcame a 12-point deficit Thursday to beat UNLV in the quarterfinals.
“They’re a fantastic team. We can all see that. What they’ve done with their body of work this year,” Dutcher said of Nevada. “And it’s going to be a real challenge. But having just played them less than a week ago, the game prep is pretty much the same for both teams, I’d imagine. There will be a tweak here or there, but in playing in 24 hours, there’s not a lot each team is going to do. We are who we are.”
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