The game matched the top-seeded Aztecs (27-6), in their sixth-straight conference championship game, and the Aggies (26-8), trying to become only the second third seed ever to win the crown.
With the win, No. 20 SDSU secured the automatic MW bid to the NCAA Tournament despite shooting just 32%. But defense dominated the contest – the team kept Utah State in check as well, as the Aggies shot 35% for the game.
The Aztec’s two leading scorers on the day, Matt Bradley and Jaedon LeDee, celebrated with their teammates on the court, hoisting the tournament trophy and cutting down bits of net.
“This is what being an Aztec is about for sure,” Bradley – the tournament MVP – told the Mountain West Network. LeDee described the celebration to the network as “beautiful. Nothing like it.”
SDSU won both their regular-season games against Utah State, but the Aggies had the early hot hand in Las Vegas’ Thomas & Mack Center Saturday. They established an 11-point lead thanks to a 12-2 run during which the Aztecs went scoreless for nearly three minutes.
“We thought we had a good game plan to start and they just ran us off the floor,” head coach Brian Dutcher told the MW Network.
They made the necessary adjustments, and Micah Parrish ended the drought with a jumper as SDSU worked its way back to within four points of the lead on a layup by Lamont Butler and a free throw by Nathan Mensah.
Utah State, though, would end the half by going without a basket for nearly seven minutes, opening the door for a 13-3 run by San Diego State.
The Aztecs pulled within one, after LeDee missed the second of two free throws and Aguek Arop grabbed the rebound, feeding Adam Seiko, who made a three-pointer with 1:04 left in the half.
SDSU had chances to take the lead, but LeDee missed a jumper, and after Arop stripped the ball from RJ Eytle-Rock, Parrish misfired on a three, leaving the score at 29-28.
Defense continued to take precedence after the break, and neither team scored for almost two minutes until Aggie Trevin Dorius dunked for a 31-28 lead.
San Diego State began to make its move on a Bradley three, tying the game, but Aggie Steven Ashworth answered immediately with his own shot from long distance. Bradley, with a layup, brought the Aztecs to within one, and an Arop jumper put them up by one.
They built momentum after that, driven by LeDee, who got hot. With the shot clock winding down, he executed a spin move under the basket, and drew a foul. He made the free throw to give his team a six-point lead.
It grew to eight on a Bradley layup, but Utah State stuck with San Diego State, whittling the lead back to two more than once. Yet SDSU held on, answering each time – with a dunk by Keshad Johnson, and another Bradley layup, along with his two trips to the line, in which he hit three of four free throws.
A jumper by Darrion Trammell gave the Aztecs a seven-point lead with three minutes to play, but as the game dipped under a minute, Utah State twice came tantalizingly close to overtaking them, both times due to Ashworth.
Free throws made the difference – Arop made two after an Ashworth layup brought the Aggies closer, at 53-50. When he hit a three to to make it 55-53, Seiko followed with two from the line.
The Aztecs made no field goals after Trammell’s shot, but hit nine of their 10 free throws down the stretch – four of them with less than eight seconds on the clock.
Bradley finished with 16 points and LeDee had a double-double, scoring 13 and adding 10 rebounds. The team also held Utah State, one of the nation’s best three-point shooting teams, to just four on the game.
The Aggies missed on 20 other attempts, and saw one by Taylor Funk erased. It would have given the team a one-point lead with six minutes to play, but after a review, the officials decided he violated the shot clock by a fraction of a second.
Four players from the title game made the conference’s All-Tournament Team – Bradley, LeDee, Ashworth and Funk. Tyson Degenhart of Boise State rounded out the honorees.
The Aztecs also won the MW during regular season. They last won the tournament championship in 2021, when they also led the conference at season’s end.
They now turn their attention to Sunday when the NCAA Tournament field is set. The team learns its region, seeding and first-round opponent during the Selection Show, which airs on KFMB Channel 8 at 3 p.m.