LAS VEGAS — Trey Kell scored 15 points as San Diego State never trailed and beat Nevada, 67-55, on Friday night in a Mountain West Conference Tournament semifinal.
The top-seeded Aztecs (25-8) move on to face the Colorado State-Fresno State winner in today’s championship at the Thomas & Mack Center.
It is San Diego State’s third consecutive appearance in the MW finals and ninth overall. The Aztecs’ last championship was in 2011.
“Thrilled that we’re playing tomorrow, and we need to come out, no matter who we play, with the same type of energy and effort and we’ll have the opportunity to cut down nets again,” SDSU coach Steve Fisher said.
“I thought that tonight was indicative from an effort standpoint of how we’ve played all year,” Nevada coach Eric Musselman said. “I think everybody in Reno and anybody associated with the Wolf Pack has to be happy with the effort that these guys have had all year.
“We played excellent defense tonight. We turned the ball over too much to beat a championship-caliber team like San Diego State.”
San Diego State had a 10-point halftime lead, and the Wolf Pack used a 12-2 surge to tie it at 38 with 11:24 remaining. Kell answered with a pair of jumpers, sparking a 19-9 run and the Aztecs led 57-47 with 2:26 left and cruised from there.
The Aztecs finished the game with a 16-9 run over the final 3 1/2 minutes.
The Wolf Pack made tremendous strides under Musselman, who won 19 games in his first season at the helm.
“It meant a lot, especially getting as good as we did so fast,” Tyron Criswell said. “And, the turnaround was great. I’m just glad my senior year we went as far as we did. I wish we could have went farther, but I’m glad we made it this far.”
“We fought the whole season,” said freshman Cameron Oliver. “All the hard work we did over the summer, even during the season, off the court, and on the court.”
San Diego State held the Pack to its second-lowest point total of the season, The previous low was 54, also against the Aztecs. The length of the Aztecs bothered the Pack.
“They are long, athletic,” Oliver said. “They play hard. Their big thing is defense. We didn’t take care of the ball.”
“I think San Diego State is one of the premier programs in the league,” Musselman said. “They’re obviously one of the best, if not the best defensive team in the entire country. Having said that, we had no legs. We ran out of gas. I think that because we were so fatigued based on playing a really close game last night, we don’t go nine deep. And therefore, I think we had a lot of uncharacteristic mental mistakes.”
The Pack is headed in the right direction under Musselman at least in Oliver’s mind.
“I felt like what happened last year, this is a great turnaround,” Oliver said. “And I know with the whole program, Coach Muss, we try to go as far as possible. I’m very proud of these guys and I feel now for the future of this program it’s going to be bright.”