March 9, 2006
DENVER (AP) - Marcus Slaughter had 17 points and 19 rebounds Thursday to help San Diego State spruce up its NCAA resume with a 64-52 victory over Colorado State in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Conference tournament.
Brandon Heath, the conference's player of the year, scored 16 for the top-seeded Aztecs (22-8), who advanced to Friday's semifinals to play the winner of the New Mexico-UNLV quarterfinal.
Coach Steve Fisher's team won its first conference title since 1978 this season, but remains at only No. 62 in the latest RPI - a bubble team in the eighth-rated conference that needs more wins to feel secure about its first berth in the NCAA tournament since 2002.
Beating the eighth-seeded Rams (16-15) was the first step - and not too taxing a challenge.
Junior-college transfer Michael Harrison had a nice game for CSU, finishing with 24 points and eight rebounds. But the team's best player, 7-foot Jason Smith, struggled. He finished with 13 points and six rebounds and played most of the second half in foul trouble.
Rams coach Dale Layer fell to 86-93 in six years, and with two seasons left on his contract, this less-than-stellar season has left many wondering if he'll be back to serve them out. The athletic director, Mark Driscoll, is leaving his job March 31 and won't likely make the decision.
Trailing by about 10 for most of the game, the Rams pulled within 50-44 midway through the second half, but the Aztecs humbled CSU over the next three minutes by grabbing nine offensive rebounds during a 9-0 run that put this game away.
Nursing the six-point lead, San Diego State missed four straight shots after a timeout, but rebounded the misses each time. Finally, Slaughter got fouled, hit the first free throw and missed the second, but that was tipped in by Kyle Spain to make it 53-44.
After a CSU turnover, the Aztecs came down and grabbed another four offensive rebounds. The result was two more Slaughter free throws - both of them made - and the competitive part of the game was essentially over.
Mohamed Abukar had 13 points for the Aztecs, who won their fourth straight and sixth of their last seven. The Aztecs won despite shooting 34 percent from the floor.