San Diego State wins Mountain West title
LAS VEGAS — Senior Trey Kell willed San Diego State to the Mountain West Championship on Saturday afternoon.
Kell, voted the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament, scored 21 of his game- and career-best 28 points in the second half to spark the Aztecs to an 82-75 win over New Mexico before a crowd of 8,456 at the Thomas & Mack Center.
San Diego State, 22-10, gets the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Aztecs will enter the event on a nine-game winning streak. The win was SDSU’s fifth tournament championship, and it’s the second time the Aztecs have won from the No. 5 position.
“I want to thank Steve Fisher for leaving me such a great team,” SDSU first-year head coach Brian Dutcher said of the coach who built the Aztecs into regional power before retiring after last season. “Not many first-year coaches get a team like that. I want to thank my seniors (Kell, Malik Pope, and Kameron Rooks). They have provided everything I thought they would.
“This is what I envisioned for Trey all along, senior guard with the ball in his hands and the game on the line. I don’t think it’s any surprise that our nine-game win streak started when Trey came back into the lineup.”
Kell missed six games with various injuries.
The senior guard injured his shin with 8:34 left in the game after colliding near midcourt with Antonio Jackson, but he refused to come out.
“I felt like I was rolling at the moment,” Kell said. “I saw we were down by six or something like that. So for me, coming out was not an option. I didn’t want to go home. It was as simple as that. I’ll be all right. Just need to get some ice treatment and I’ll be straight.”
It’s a good thing he toughed it out. The Aztecs outscored the Lobos 25-12 over the final 7 1/2 minutes.
Featured in that late-game finish was a 17-4 surge that enabled the Aztecs to take a 74-67 lead with 2:58 left. Kell was right in the mix.
He started the surge with two free tosses and after New Mexico misfired, Jeremy Hemsley buried a 3-pointer from the left corner off a pass from Kell to cut the Lobos’ lead to 63-62 with 6:46 left. After another New Mexico miss, Max Montana delivered big time. He took a pass from Devin Watson and drained a 3-pointer and was fouled by Mathis. Montana completed the four-point play to give SDSU a 66-63 lead.
“I told Max he was going to do something special,” Dutcher said. “I didn’t know where or when but I though he would. He hit the big corner three and got fouled. He had his moment.”
After two free throws by Sam Logwood, Kell made a jump shot with 5:01 left and then added a 3-pointer to make it 71-65 with 4:34 left. The Lobos did get it to four two times (77-73 and 79-75), but never got closer.
Pope, who finished with 16 points, cemented the win with four straight free throws in the final 14 seconds.
“San Diego State did a great job defensively,” New Mexico first-year coach Paul Weir said. “We didn’t take the best shots sometimes. Kell was terrific, and San Diego State deserved to win the championship.”
“They were fortunate enough to make a couple of shots, and we didn’t make the shots,” said guard Antonio Jackson.
NOTES: The win was the first in three tries against the Lobos in a championship game … New Mexico’s bench outscored the Aztecs’ bench, 32-15 … Besides Kell, the rest of the all-tournament team included Nevada’s Jordan Caroline, SDSU’s Devin Watson, and New Mexico’s duo of Joe Furstinger and Jackson … Jackson led New Mexico with 17 points.