LAS VEGAS — This time against San Diego State, BYU's shots didn't fall. As a result, the No. 8-ranked Cougars did.
No. 6 San Diego State claimed the Mountain West Conference Tournament men's basketball championship, and avenged its only two losses of the season, with a decisive 72-54 win over top-seeded BYU on Saturday at the Thomas & Mack Center.
While the Cougars (30-4) knocked down 14 3-pointers two weeks ago in a 13-point victory over SDSU (32-2) at Viejas Arena in San Diego, BYU made just 6-of-24 from 3-point range and shot a miserable 32 percent overall from the field Saturday.
"The main thing is we just weren't shooting real well," said Cougar guard Jimmer Fredette, who scored 30 points and was named the tournament MVP. "Sometimes that happens. (The Aztecs are) long, they're athletic. They caused us some problems. But at the end, we just didn't really make shots that sometimes we normally make to keep us in the game."
Fredette was 10-of-25 from the field and 2-of-7 from 3-point range one day after pouring in a career-high 52 points in the semifinals against New Mexico.
"The key for us, when Jimmer gets in a situation where (he gets double-teamed), then we have to be able to make shots," said BYU coach Dave Rose. "Especially against San Diego State, because when you turn into a driving team and you try to get to the rim, that's where they're terrific. They've got size, they've got length, they've got athleticism."
With the win, SDSU earned the MWC's automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament, which tips off this week, while BYU will receive an at-large berth to the tournament. Today, Selection Sunday, both teams will find out their seeds, their opponents, and where they will be playing.
The Aztecs controlled the game almost the entire way, outscoring the Cougars in the paint (40-16), in second-chance points (21-9), and fastbreak points (14-5) — SDSU dominated on the floor and in the box score.
Billy White scored a team-high 21 points for SDSU to go along with 12 rebounds. Kawhi Leonard collected 20 points and eight boards. Combined, White and Leonard shot 12-for-22 from the floor.
In an emotionally charged atmosphere at the Thomas & Mack Center, the two teams played even early. Then, midway through the first half, the Aztecs went on a 14-3 run, snapping a 12-12 tie, and seized a 43-31 halftime lead.
Fredette drained an acrobatic 3-pointer as time expired at the end of the half, but it was later disallowed by officials who, after watching a replay, ruled that the ball left Fredette's hand after the buzzer.
SDSU came out strong to start out the second half and went up by as many as 23 points.
The Cougars rallied late in the game, whittling the deficit down to 10, 62-52, with 4:49 remaining. But BYU went cold again and SDSU regained control.
"I was really proud of the fight that our guys showed because we were down big and it looked like our body language was bad," Rose explained. "We got in a timeout, we addressed it. We cut that lead down and actually had a possession to cut that lead down to eight. We couldn't make the play."
The difference between the two previous meetings between BYU and SDSU, of course, was the absence of suspended sophomore forward Brandon Davies.
But the Cougars didn't make any excuses.
"The thing with Davies is, we moved on," said guard Jackson Emery. "We're a different team now. We have a lot of confidence in the guys we have. We believe we could have beat them with these guys. We're not going to put anything on not having Brandon."
The Aztecs, though, weren't so sure.
"It's a big factor," White said of the Cougars playing without Davies. "He's a key player on that team, too. We took advantage and crashed the board, just played San Diego State basketball. We knew if we just tried to contain Jimmer and tried to make everybody else shoot, we knew that we had the game."
Were the short-handed Cougars spent after playing three games in three nights?
"We weren't tired, we were beat up," Emery said. "We never played three games before right in a row. It was tough on us. But I think we had stretches where we just didn't make shots. When we're not hitting shots and they're hitting shots, it's really tough to beat them."
For SDSU, finally beating BYU was sweet redemption.
"It feels great," said guard D.J. Gay. "I can't tell you those two losses weren't on our mind, because it definitely was. It was another thing that we can use as motivation. They're a very good team. We haven't really beaten them a lot in my career here. Just to go out with that win is huge for the team and myself personally."
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