San Diego State holds off No. 25 BYU
LAS VEGAS (AP)—Even after his second stirring performance in two days at the Mountain West Conference tournament, San Diego State senior Lorrenzo Wade rejected the notion he’s carrying the Aztecs through March.
He could afford to stay quiet about his exploits. His teammates and coaches were all too happy to sing his praises for him.
Wade scored 16 of his 24 points after halftime and hit two key free throws with 7.6 seconds left, leading San Diego State to a 64-62 victory over No. 25 BYU in the semifinals Friday night.
Kyle Spain added 13 points as the Aztecs (23-8) all but assured themselves of a trip to the NCAA tournament with a tenacious second-half effort against the Cougars (25-7), who haven’t won the conference tourney since 2001 despite being the top seed each of the last three years.
“We’re playing better now because we’re sharing the basketball a lot better, and we’re playing with more intensity,” said Wade, whose Aztecs have won five straight since losing at home to BYU on Feb. 24. “We’re playing with more intensity on the defensive end, and that wears teams down.”
So does a player with Wade’s blooming talents in his final conference tournament. Although Wade insisted he didn’t “put the team on (his) back,” he was outstanding against the Cougars after scoring 20 points to beat host UNLV a day earlier.
Wade scored 12 points in the final 6:13 against BYU with an array of baskets including a 3-pointer, a three-point play, a stunningly graceful rebound dunk on a teammate’s missed shot, a backdoor cut for a layup, and those final free throws.
“He’s as good as anybody in the country, the way he’s playing right now,” said coach Steve Fisher, who is hoping to take the Aztecs to their third NCAA tournament in his decade at the school. “He hardly misses a shot, and he guards like crazy.”
San Diego State will go for its third Mountain West tournament title since 2002 on Saturday against the winner of second-seeded Utah’s late semifinal against Wyoming at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Despite their late-season surge, Fisher isn’t certain his Aztecs are in the NCAAs.
“We want to play tomorrow, and we want to cut a net down and know we’re in,” said Fisher, who led Michigan to the 1989 NCAA title. “We’re playing good basketball, and we’re starting to get a little more respect out here in the West. We’re hoping, but we’ve got a tough game to play.”
Jimmer Fredette scored 17 points on 5-of-14 shooting and Lee Cummard added 11 points, but BYU’s five-game winning streak ended when the Cougars left too many points on the free-throw line after halftime.
Although BYU controlled play for long stretches of the second half, the Aztecs hung around thanks to BYU’s six missed free throws, including three by center Chris Miles in the final 4:45. The Cougars also went 5-for-18 on 3-pointers, disappointing the overwhelmingly pro-BYU crowd in Las Vegas.
“I wish we could have got one of these (tournaments) while I was here,” said Cummard, a senior who turns 24 in a few weeks. “It’s tough the last three years here, having the same feeling and leaving. I wish we could have got one.”
BYU, which had its five-game winning streak snapped, was the only team to beat San Diego State twice during the regular season. The Aztecs finished the conference slate one game behind co-champions BYU, Utah and New Mexico.
“They made a couple more free throws than we did,” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “The bottom line is we had a few chances to win, but they made a couple more plays than we did.”
San Diego State nursed a small lead through most of the game, and Wade immediately answered both times BYU briefly went ahead in the final minutes.
Wade then came off a screen for a tough layup with 26.3 seconds left to put San Diego State up 61-58, but Richie Williams was called for a foul on Fredette’s long jumper with 10.6 seconds left.
After a lengthy video review determined Fredette had his foot on the 3-point line, he hit two free throws. Fredette acknowledged he wasn’t sure if he was behind the line after two pump-fakes.
Spain hit 1-of-2 on the other end, but the rebound went out of bounds off Cummard, and Wade made two more free throws.
After Cummard’s length-of-the-court layup with 1.6 seconds left, San Diego State’s inbounds pass deflected free into the corner, but BYU’s desperation shot wasn’t close.
Williams, a 5-foot-10 guard, led San Diego State with eight rebounds.
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