LAS VEGAS (AP) — No matter how good San Diego State has been playing since mid-February, it was evident Friday night it has no intention of leaving its chances of making the NCAA Tournament to the selection committee.
Devin Watson scored 20 points to lead the Aztecs (21-10) to a 90-73 blowout victory over No. 22 Nevada on Friday night in the Mountain West Conference semifinals.
“I’m itching right now,” Watson said, about the team’s desire to get back to the Big Dance for the first time since 2015. “We want it so bad.”
The Aztecs, who haven’t won a tournament championship since 2011, will play in the title game for the fourth time in five years, and eighth time in 10 seasons.
Jalen McDaniels had his ninth double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds for the Aztecs, who have now won eight in a row – including two against Nevada.
Six of those wins during the streak have come by double digits.
“Tired of losing,” Watson added. “We knew our potential. We knew how good we could be, we just wanted to prove it to ourselves and to everybody.”
San Diego State, which trailed for only 42 seconds in the game, faces the winner of Friday’s late semifinal between New Mexico and Utah State.
The Wolf Pack was led by Jordan Caroline, who scored 25 points and grabbed 10 rebounds before fouling out. Caleb Martin added 13 for Nevada, while Elijah Cooke had 10.
Nevada, the defending tournament champion, had its four-game tournament win streak come to an embarrassing halt, as it suffered through its third-worst shooting performance of the season.
The Wolf Pack shot 39.7 percent from the field, connecting on just 27 of 68. The team’s 24.1 percent clip from 3-point range was a season low.
Nevada opened the game with a 3-pointer from Caroline. From there it was all San Diego State, which ending up shooting 61.3 percent (19 of 31) in the first half, including 7 of 15 (46.7) from 3-point range. The Aztecs converted eight Nevada turnovers into 14 points, while they outscored the Wolf Pack 14-3 with second-chance points.
“When you start making shots like that, the basket gets the size of the ocean. And when that happens everything seems to be good,” San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher said. “Devin started us. They ducked under some ball screens. He made some early 3s. And obviously we did a good job sharing the ball.”
And as the Aztecs were scorching the nets at one end, Nevada struggled to find its groove at the other, hitting just 10 of 26 (38.5 percent) from the floor, and shooting a bleak 27.3 percent (3 of 11) from long range. San Diego State’s 55 points in the first half set a Mountain West tournament record.
“You just had to be ready to play from the get-go, and since we weren’t, we couldn’t fight back from a 30-point deficit at the half,” Caroline said. “We can learn something from this, and our next opportunity as a team we have to be ready to play. And we can’t take anything for granted. From here on out it’s one or done, we do or die.”
Another glaring difference early on, the Aztecs went to the free throw line 12 times, and hit 10, while Nevada split four free throws from the charity stripe over the first 20 minutes. The Aztecs finished the game 26 of 34 from the free throw line, while Nevada went 12-for-17.
Regardless of the loss, Nevada coach Eric Musselman said he felt his team has done enough to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“We certainly feel we’re one of the best teams in the country, without question,” Musselman said. “And if we god hot recently or something and then lost, maybe not, but we’ve been so consistent from the very beginning. We put together an unbelievable non-conference schedule. We won on the road at a high, high, high rate. And so, we certainly think that the NCAA Tournament selection committee looks at the entire body of work.
“So yeah, we feel like we’ve done more than enough based on how we played an entire season.”
San Diego State: The Aztecs continued their domination in the league’s postseason event, as they own the highest winning percentage in Mountain West tournament history. With its victory Friday night, San Diego State improved to 29-14 (.674).
Nevada: The Wolf Pack reserves came into the game averaging 17.6 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. Friday night, Nevada’s bench scored 14 points and grabbed 4 rebounds.
San Diego State: Will play in Saturday’s Mountain West tournament championship, seeking the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Nevada: Despite the loss, expect the Wolf Pick to receive an at-large bid into the Big Dance.