Mar 13, 2011, 12:05 AM EDT
The third was the charm for San Diego State. The Aztecs finally got the best of Jimmer Fredette and BYU, beating the Cougars 72-54 in the Mountain West title game and avenging their only two losses of the season.
“We know that we’re good. How good we still don’t know,” SDSU coach Steve Fisher insisted. “But we had a thought that if we came and competed, we would have a chance to back-to-back cut down nets. That doesn’t happen often. It doesn’t happen unless you have talented players with character that will give to get.”
Now for the really tough part. The NCAA tournament.
San Diego State will likely be a 2 seed, but figures to qualify as a darkhorse Final Four pick because it’s never won an NCAA tournament game. But thanks thanks to its tantalizing mix of size, depth and NBA-caliber players like sophomore forward Kawhi Leonard, that’ll change. He had 20 points and eight rebounds as the Aztecs (30-2) used him occasionally on Fredette, the nation’s leading scorer. The BYU star had torched SDSU for 68 total points in the previous two games.
But without center Brandon Davies (dismissed for violating school rules), the Cougars (30-4) didn’t have the depth or balance to take the pressure off Fredette, who did finish with 30 points, most of it coming during a late charge.
“It’s a big factor. He’s a key player on that team,” SDSU senior Billy White said. “We took advantage of that and crashed the boards, 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.”
That defense will be the biggest factor to the Aztecs making an NCAA tourney run. The offense was clicking vs. BYU, but the defense – featuring that athletic frontcourt – is what will be the difference.
“When you turn into a driving team and you try to get to the rim, that’s where they’re terrific,” says BYU coach Dave Rose. “They’ve got size. They’ve got length. They’ve got athleticism. They make you change your shot at the rim.”
Making life miserable for offenses during the tournament by blocking shots and rebounding? Sounds like West Virginia last season. And the Mountaineers ended up in the Final Four.
You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.
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