San Diego State set to take on Utah State in MW Championship

Bailey Bassett

Wyoming had a Cinderella story all tournament long. They were the last seed and major underdogs in both of their two previous tournament matches. The first was a win against Colorado State and then a win again against the third-seeded Nevada Wolf Pack. 

Aggies 89 – Cowboys 82

On Friday, Wyoming took on their toughest test yet in Utah State, the number two team in the Mountain West Conference tournament. Both teams went in with clear game plans, and the contest was a thriller until the end.

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Alphonso Anderson gets a pass on March 6. Utah State beat Wyoming 89-82. (Ryan Schmidt | The Collegian)

Utah State had a clear size advantage, and they focused on scoring in the paint, specifically with center Neemias Queta. The sophomore big man is 7 feet tall with a 7-foot-4-inch wingspan and a 9-foot-3.5-inch standing reach. 

The center from Portugal tested his feet in the draft waters before coming back to school last year, and all day long, Utah State fed the ball inside to the big man.

He used his length to get easy finishes over the Wyoming defenders. Wyoming’s defensive size disadvantage forced them to play 6-foot-6-inch starting forward Trevon Taylor, 6-foot-7-inch guard Hunter Maldonado and 6-foot-10-inch but skinny backup Hunter Thompson on Queta. Haize Fornstrom, at 6 feet, 4 inches, even saw a run playing in the post. Queta shined to a total of 21 points.

Wyoming’s strategy was to fight fire with water and counter Utah State’s inside attack with an outside game. They knew it would be hard to score on Queta in the post, so they fired up lots of 3-pointers.

This strategy worked for a while, and they even had some Cinderella luck with Jake Hendricks banking a three and a career night from Kenny Foster, who had four 3-pointers and 18 points. However, Wyoming had a little bit of a chucker mentality at times, and they would go broke for stretches when forcing bad shots. 

Eventually, the threes started to fall again, and Wyoming made it a very interesting ball game. They ended with a 15-33 line from deep. 

Queta’s defense and Sam Merrill’s offense ultimately closed out the game, as Utah State won 89-82. Queta blocked everything in the last couple minutes and tied his season-high with five blocks. He has a presence that gets in offensive players’ heads.

The few times Wyoming wasn’t chucking up threes was when they saw Queta coming to contest, even if their looks were clean. Merrill hit three shots that could be seen as daggers at the end of the game. He gets shots up quickly, and the contest or distance of the shot doesn’t matter if he has any space. Merrill is the definition of a closer, and he finished with 27 points.

Aztecs 81 – Broncos 68

In the championship game, Utah State will take on San Diego State University. The top-ranked team in the conference and fifth team in the nation knocked off Boise State on Friday.

The contest was close for a while, tied 40-40 at halftime, and it even saw early domination from Boise State, who went on a 19-3 run. It was an offensive showdown, and both teams were shooting at least 50% from the field and 3-point land in the first half. However, all year long SDSU has been a second-half team, and once again they took over in the final 20 minutes. 

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Boise State saw their lead dwindle down and eventually disappear thanks in large part to Malachi Flynn and K.J. Feagin. Flynn sat significant time due to foul trouble, yet he still finished with a game-high 22 points.

Flynn once again proved why he is the MW Player of the Year. He has NBA range and has a quick and pure release on his jumper. Feagin had 21 points and five 3-pointers to boast.

Boise State was down by roughly 10 points for the majority of the half, and a late three-minute scoring drought drained any hope for a comeback. 

In a tournament filled with thrilling games, this championship could end up being the most entertaining game yet.

Utah State’s starting point guard Abel Porter has started both of the two previous games but has come out early and stayed on the bench for the rest of the game due to a lingering injury.

Without Porter, Merrill is the only true ball handler, and this makes the Aggies vulnerable. Utah State has struggled against the press because of this, and this is something that the Aztecs can potentially exploit.

As previously stated, SDSU has struggled early in games. If Utah State can build a big enough lead and stick with the Aztecs in the second half, they may have a chance.

Bailey Bassett can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @baileybassett_.