by Daniel Olsen
The Aggies complied with the three keys to the game in the Mountain West tournament preview. This led to outstanding statistical performances by Neemias Queta and Marco Anthony, a huge rebounding advantage and a 74-53 win over the UNLV Rebels in the Mountain West Tournament Quarterfinals.
While the Rebels hung close with the scored tied at 24 first half, the Aggies out-scored them 50-29 in the second half and never looked back. The leader of the game was Neemias Queta with 18 points and 13 rebounds. Marco Anthony, a transfer with the championship pedigree from the 2019 NCAA Champion Virginia Cavaliers, certainly played like a champion. He ended the game with 15 points and 13 rebounds of his own.
Health did turn out to be a factor as the full starting lineup was back in action for the first time since February. Rollie Worster and Brock Miller combined for 22 points and were valuable to the success of the Aggies.
With this win, the Aggies took on a new challenge and defeated a tough Colorado State team that they split the regular season series with. The game went until almost 1 AM Mountain Time. It’s time to take a look at the keys to winning another championship over the San Diego State Aztecs.
• The Second Coming of Sam Merrill
Sam Merrill isn’t walking through that tunnel. The Aggies need to find their guy to step up on the offensive end in this game. Merrill tweeted last night that fatigue was one of the reasons the Aggies trailed 27-11 at the end of the first half in last year’s championship. If the Aggies dig themselves a hole again, they will need someone to show similar heroics. Queta so far has been that guy on the defensive end. He or one of his teammates will need to score at least 20 points on the offensive end to give the Aggies a chance. While it is a team game, it’s important to have a star in championship moments.
• Stop the Aztec All-Star
If there’s anyone hungrier to beat the Aggies, it’s Matt Mitchell. He has lost to the Aggies in the last two Mountain West Tournament Championships. He responded from a questionable four point outing in a close win over Wyoming in the quarterfinals. He exploded for 24 points in the semifinal game against Nevada. Mitchell was awarded the Mountain West Player of the Year for his performance in the regular season.
While Mitchell is great, the Aggies have the Defensive Player of the Year and arguably all-around better player in Queta. With a nine block performance in the semifinals, it’s amazing that Queta was just one block shy of a triple-double. If he can take Mitchell out of his inside game, the Aggies could be cutting down the nets again.
• Cut down on the turnovers
The Aggies at times seem to get away with sloppy play on offense because they can afford to with their defense and rebounding. Such will not be the case against San Diego State. Although the Aggies swept the Aztecs, Mitchell was injured in the second game and the Aggies pulled off a five point win in which they committed 16 turnovers. The Aztecs play tough defense too so the Aggies will need to treat every possession like it’s their last. While many analysts have them safely in the tournament, a win would save them a difficult 24 hours of sweating it out until Selection Sunday.
Prediction: Utah State 69 San Diego State 60
In a battle of fathers and sons, the father has to win because they know the son better than he knows himself. The father in this case is USU. They have owned the Aztecs in the last two Mountain West championships. The Aggies are always peaking at the right time. With everyone healthy, the Aggies are playing their best basketball right now. The Aztecs have never been more motivated to win a championship. However, these are two different teams from last year. Once again, it’s the Aggies that have the NBA talent, best coach and best team. It will be a close one with the Aggies pulling away with free throws at the end to win their third straight Mountain West Tournament Championship.
Featured image courtesy Eli Lucero/ Herald Journal