LAS VEGAS — This time, there was no dramatic comeback in the final two minutes for the Utah State basketball team. Of course, it’s kind of tough when you’re trailing the No. 8-ranked team in the country by 38 points.
A day after rallying from a nine-point deficit to defeat Colorado State with a 16-3 run in the final 90 seconds, the Aggies couldn’t even put up 16 points in the entire first half and were crushed by San Diego State, 73-39, Thursday afternoon at the Thomas & Mack Center.
The Aggies were out of Thursday’s game right from the opening tip and never gave San Diego State the slightest bit of trouble as the Aztecs bulldozed the Aggies, who are likely done for the season at 18-14.
USU coach Stew Morrill said afterward his team was unlikely to accept a postseason bid and acknowledged it may not even be asked to play in the CBI or CIT tournaments.
The Aztecs played one of their best games of the season, according to coach Steve Fisher, while the Aggies played one of their poorest in their worst defeat since a 77-42 loss to Utah in 1999.
Only USU center Jarred Shaw, who scored 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting, showed up for the Aggies. The rest of the team only managed 6-of-30 shooting from the field against a stingy Aztec defense. As a team, USU shot a season-low 29.3 percent from the field.
“Obviously, it was quite a comedown from last night’s game, very disappointing’’ said Morrill. “But San Diego State just takes you out of everything you’re trying to do. Their quickness and athleticism can be overwhelming and it was today.’’
The Aggies had a good contingent of fans on hand, but the team was never close enough to get the early-arriving UNLV fans to root for them (and against the Aztecs).
This game might have been over in the first five minutes when the Aggies missed their first nine shots. By that time it was 8-0 for the Aztecs and the lead kept growing — to 22-8, 31-13 and finally 36-15 at halftime.
“We got some really good looks right in the beginning, but they just weren’t going down,’’ said USU guard Spencer Butterfield. “It was definitely frustrating, especially because they were good looks. Sometimes it doesn’t go your way.’’
Not content with a 21-point halftime lead, the Aztecs came out smokin’ in the second half, making 10 of their first 12 shots to quickly extend the lead to 34 at 59-25.
At that point, Fisher cleared his bench, showing some mercy on the Aggies, while also saving his starters for the rest of the tournament.
Xavier Thames led the Aztecs with 15 points and seven assists, while Winston Shepard had 13 points and forward Josh Davis had eight points and 13 rebounds.
Morrill said his team’s dramatic comeback Wednesday didn’t have any effect on his team’s performance Thursday.
“It was a quick turnaround,’’ he said, “but San Diego State was what determined everything. They just locked us down and played exceptionally well.’’
Aside from Shaw, no Aggie player scored more than five points (reserve Jalen Moore) and no starters scored more than three.
“We played really really good basketball, keyed by how we defended them,’’ said Fisher. “We wanted to make it very difficult for them to get uncontested 3s and we did.’’
The Aggies finished just 1 of 10 from 3-point range, their worst percentage (10 percent) of the season.
The Aztecs, who improved to 28-3 on the season, will face UNLV, a 71-67 winner over Wyoming, in Friday’s semifinals at 6 p.m.
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