Bison taste sweet to Aztecs
Last year, Cinderella, in the form of Florida Gulf Coast, turned the Aztecs into pumpkins. But in 2014, SDSU rode a coach pulled by buffaloes into Anaheim, and the Sweet 16. Carried by Xavier Thames’ brilliant performance, the Aztecs were in control the entire contest.
The second-best college basketball defense (by points allowed) in the land overwhelmed the team with the highest field-goal percentage Saturday night in Spokane. SDSU won 63-44 over North Dakota State by showing that great defense beats great offense, at least this time. NDSU’s 51% was reduced to 32% by the swarming lads from Montezuma.
Now, the Aztecs get some home cooking, and motor up the 405 to Anaheim for the Western Regional Finals, where they face the top seed in the region, Arizona. The winner will play the victor between Wisconsin and Baylor. San Diego State defeated UCLA, a winner last night, in this same Anaheim arena, earlier in the season. NDSU finishes its best season in school history with a record of 26 wins against 7 losses.
The Bison’s leading scorer for the year, Taylor Braun, had his lowest point production of the season, making only 2 of his 14 attempts. Conversely Xavier Thames, the Aztecs’ prolific point guard touched the Bison for 30 points, his second highest total of the season. Those two performances, mandated by the tough Aztec D, were the difference in the game.
San Diego State focused their defense on Braun and NDSU center Marshall Bjorklund, the national individual leader in field-goal percentage. Bjorklund had only 8 points for the evening on 3 for 7 shooting.
Part of the SDSU task was overcoming the Spokane crowd who were initially rooting for the underdog NDSU team. Trading 7-0 runs in the first half, with the Aztecs gaining the upper hand by half time, helped bring the arena around to the Aztec point of view.
One big problem for North Dakota state was having to sit their most reliable scorer for the Summit Conference tournament, which they won, and their previous NCAA tournament game, a shocking upset of 5th-seeded Oklahoma. TrayVonn Wright picked up 3 fouls very early, and missed more than half the opening 20 minutes of the game, sitting on the bench. Wright ended up playing only 20 minutes of the entire game, scoring only four points.
After establishing an 8 point lead at 51-43, SDSU closed the deal with an 8-0 run, allowing only a single point in the last 5 minutes of the contest. It’s on to Anaheim and the Wildcats now.