UNLV-San Diego St. Preview
San Diego State showed that it's far from content with just bringing home its third Mountain West Conference regular-season title in four seasons.
The eighth-ranked Aztecs are also hoping to claim their first conference tournament crown in three years and will try to take another step by getting past host UNLV in Friday night's semifinals.
San Diego State (28-3) gave Utah State no hope of an upset Thursday by scoring the first eight points and racing out to a 21-point halftime lead in a 73-39 rout. The Aztecs outshot the Aggies 52.5 percent to 29.3, and MWC player of the year Xavier Thames led the way with 15 points and seven assists.
"That's one of our best games. Let's build on it," coach Steve Fisher said. "You feel good when you win. You feel better when you win the way we did."
Thames and the rest of the starters also got some rest for much of the second half of their quarterfinal win.
"We want to get selfish. We want to win another championship," Fisher said. "It's easy to say, hard to do."
The top-seeded Aztecs have been beaten by current No. 2 seed New Mexico in each of the last two years. They would potentially get another shot at the 20th-ranked Lobos in Saturday's championship game with a third consecutive win over No. 4 seed UNLV (20-12).
San Diego State won 73-64 at the Thomas & Mack Center on March 5 by scoring 12 of the final 14 points in the game. Winston Shepard had seven of his 13 points during that run, and Thames scored five of his 19.
Thames had 11 of his 18 points from the free-throw line in a 63-52 home win Jan. 18. He missed 11 of 14 shots during a 33.9-percent performance for the Aztecs, who held UNLV to a season-low 30.0 percent.
Rebels leading scorer Bryce Dejean-Jones missed 18 of 25 shots while finishing with 15 points in that game. The junior guard, averaging 13.7 points and shooting 42.6 percent, also went 1 for 7 and scored seven points in the home loss.
While playing as a reserve for the first time in 20 games, Dejean-Jones had 22 points on 9-of-17 shooting Thursday in a 71-67 quarterfinal win over Wyoming. He was suspended for Saturday's regular-season finale, a 76-72 loss at Nevada, for conduct detrimental to the team.
Roscoe Smith contributed 18 points and 13 rebounds off the bench Thursday in his return from a two-game absence due to a concussion. Deville Smith had 15 points and made two of UNLV's five free throws in the final 22 seconds after the Cowboys cut a 13-point deficit to one.
While San Diego State is trying to secure a top-four seed in the NCAA tournament, the Rebels are simply attempting to earn a fifth consecutive berth. They will likely need to win the Mountain West tournament to accomplish that goal.
"We all committed to each other on Monday that it was a new season," coach Dave Rice said. "Certainly a lot of good things happened for us this year. There was a lot of disappointment at various times."
San Diego State is facing UNLV in the Mountain West tournament for the first time since a 74-72 victory in the 2011 semifinals at Thomas & Mack.