San Diego State didn’t have to dominate Wyoming to win the Mountain West title Saturday, yet they did, to wrap up the regular season with their 24th win.
The 67-50 victory wasn’t strictly necessary because Boise State, which had to win to gain a share of the conference crown, lost at Utah State Saturday.
So the No. 18 Aztecs (24-6, 15-3) open March Madness at the MW tournament in Las Vegas as the top seed, with a bye in the opening round.
They play at noon Thursday – their opponent will be the winner of Wednesday’s Colorado State/Fresno State contest, a meeting of eight and nine seeds – and must win three games to secure the tournament title and the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament that comes with it.
The MW championship game is set for March 11, with Selection Sunday the following day – when SDSU finds out its fate (if the team doesn’t win the conference tournament, it must get in based on its record and the quality of its wins).
The Aztecs also will learn their seeding and opponent for the NCAA Tournament that day, with first-round action set to begin March 16.
An enthused Matt Bradley, during the team’s post-game celebration Saturday, told San Diego Sports 760 that March will “be big time” for the Aztecs.
What does he want? A “win in the tournament in Vegas and then go(ing) on to do special things.”
San Diego State had a tough test in two of its final three games, facing New Mexico (a rousing 73-71 win) and Boise State (a dispiriting 66-60 loss) on the road, but Wyoming (9-21, 4-14 MW), in last place in the conference, was a different story.
The Aztecs marked Senior Night at Viejas Arena – meaning sendoffs for seniors Aguek Arop, Bradley, Keshad Johnson, Nathan Mensah and Adam Seiko, who all started – by jumping out to a 12-point lead at the half, led by Jaedon LeDee, with 11.
They steadily extended their advantage, going up by 23 with just over eight minutes to play as Bradley made a step-back jumper after a Lamont Butler steal.
The Cowboys crept back to within 14 approaching two minutes to play on a three-pointer by Jeremiah Oden, but Bradley answered with a three from the corner to close out the scoring.
San Diego State held the Cowboys to 34% shooting and their leading scorer Hunter Maldonado to just three points.
LeDee finished with 21 points on eight-of-nine shooting. Seiko followed with 14 and Bradley with 11.
SDSU’s regular-season title is its third in the last four years. Head coach Brian Dutcher told CBS Sports Network that “we win because we’re mature, we’re veteran and we care about the right things and were playing March basketball.”
But March also means there are no second chances – every game is a must win.
“It’s a one-and-done scenario now,” he said.