By Arnie Leshin
Leave it to San Diego State, the long-time frontrunner in the men’s Mountain West Conference.
While its fellow conference members have lost 14 straight postseason tournament games, it was the Aztecs who ended the long 11-game draught with the lone NCAA tournament victory.
From there, 5th-seeded San Diego State, now at a whooping 31-6, kept along its merry way with Friday’s 71-64 success over top-seeded Alabama in Louisville, Ky. Now the Aztecs take on No. 6 Creighton Sunday in the West Regional and seek their initial Final Four in program history.
It wasn’t an easy go for the regular-season conference champions. They were behind 48-39 midway through the second half before going on a 12-0 run and taking charge by winding down with eight blocked shots, five by Nathan Mensah, and forced 14 turnovers.
It ended the Crimson Tide season at 31-6 and it fell short of its second Elite Eight berth in school history.
“It was a very good Bama team,” said Aztecs’ senior guard Jaedon LeDee, who scored a dozen points and dished out six assists to go with five steals, “they have a lot of talented players, we knew it was going to be hard, and it was a dogfight, very physical.”
A layup by Alabama senior wing Mark Sears got his side within 66-64 with 46 seconds remaining, but sophomore Matt Bradley converted a pair of free throws for San Diego State, and senior Micah Parrish followed with three-of-four from the charity stripe that included two with 17 seconds on the clock.
The Aztecs shot just 38% from the field and were outrebounded 52-48, but made clutch shots to rally when the Crimson Tide appeared to be in control behind a faster pace after halftime.
A technical foul on San Diego State head coach Brian Dutcher also seemed to spark his seasoned team that maintained its physical play and thwarted every attempt by Bama to rally.
For a Mountain West Conference that regularly comes up short in the postseason, it apparently doesn’t effect the confident Aztecs.