LAS VEGAS (AP) — Steve Fisher and the San Diego State Aztecs don’t want to take anything for granted.
Yes, they expect an invitation to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they do in the Mountain West Conference tournament championship.
It’s just that they’d like to have another trophy.
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MWC Player of the Year Jamaal Franklin, playing most of the second half with three fouls, scored 19 points and Chase Tapley had 10 of his 17 in the first five minutes of the second half to lead No. 18 San Diego State to a 79-69 victory against fourth-seeded Colorado State in the semifinals on Friday night.
The top-seeded Aztecs (26-6) will play for their third straight MWC tournament title and automatic NCAA tournament bid on Saturday night when they face the winner of the other semifinal between No. 20 UNLV and New Mexico.
The Aztecs were expected to be an afterthought this year after losing four starters, including Kawhi Leonard to the NBA, from the team that reached the Sweet 16 last year and won a school-record 34 games. But Franklin had a breakout year and SDSU weathered a three-game losing streak midway through conference play to share the regular-season league title with New Mexico.
“Our heart and soul was to win this game. We want to play tomorrow,” said Fisher, the MWC coach of the year. “We’re not worried about tired legs. We’re going to make the tournament. I hope (the Rams) are in the tournament.”
James Rahon had 15 points and Garrett Green 10 for SDSU.
The Rams (20-11) are hoping their RPI of 21 and regular-season wins against SDSU, UNLV and New Mexico will earn them their first NCAA tournament berth since 2003. The Rams beat SDSU by 17 at Fort Collins on Jan. 28.
“We’ve made our case,” coach Tim Miles said. “We don’t pass the eye test, the smell test, the airport test. We don’t pass any test. Put me on the floor and let these guys compete and we’ll see. You know, yeah, we made our case.”
Dorian Green had 20 points for CSU, while Jesse Carr had 17 and Dwight Smith 12.
Trailing 39-38 at halftime, SDSU turned it on in the second half and didn’t let the Rams back in, as it did in the first half. Colorado State shot just 35.5 percent after the break.
Franklin was whistled for two fouls in the game’s first four minutes. He picked up his third just a minute into the second half. Not long after, big man Tim Shelton committed his third foul.
It didn’t affect the Aztecs, though.
Rahon hit a 3-pointer on the opening possession and Tapley made a runner in the lane and converted a three-point play for a quick 44-40 lead.
After CSU’s Green converted a three-point play, Tapley and Shelton made layups to push the lead to 48-43.
Tapley made a layup and a 3-pointer during the next few minutes, and Franklin’s 3-pointer made it 59-48 with 14:41 to play.
“I was feeding off my players,” Franklin said. “Driving me was the bench. They gave me more spring. You feel more confident.”
DeShawn Stephens, who had a big game against CSU’s Will Bell, had a slam dunk for a 61-50 lead with 13:36 to go. Stephens had nine rebounds and blocked three shots by Bell.
“This was a really good, well-played, hard-fought game,” Fisher said. “This was real high-level basketball.”
CSU made 6 of 11 3-pointers in the first half but only 2 of 11 in the second.
“Every mistake we made in the first half they took advantage of,” Fisher said. “I thought in the second half, we were so good at being able to find and do a better job of contesting 3-pointers. That’s a credit to our kids, how they listened at halftime, how they compete together.”
San Diego State led by six midway through the first half and had five-point leads twice after that. Each time, Colorado State came back.
Shelton had a putback for a 26-21 lead with 6:09 left before Green made a layup and Bell made a shot off a rebound, was fouled and converted the three-point play to tie it.
SDSU’s Xavier Thames and Franklin made 3-pointers sandwiched around Bell’s free throw to make it 32-27.
CSU came back and took the lead this time, getting two free throws from Bell and 3-pointers on consecutive possessions by Wes Eikmeier and Carr to go up 35-32. The Aztecs’ last lead of the half was 36-35 after Thames made two free throws and Rahon a jumper. Eikmeier and Carr again made consecutive baskets for a three-point lead, and Rahon’s jumper in the final seconds pulled SDSU to 39-38 at the half.