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Las Vegas • The Aggies did it, and now they're hoping San Diego State can't do it: Beat a team three times in one season.
Utah State (18-13) prevailed in a 73-69 grinder with Colorado State on Wednesday during the first round of the Mountain West men's basketball tournament. The team's reward is a third shot at the No. 8-ranked Aztecs a team that has beaten them twice this season.
Preston Medlin couldn't supress a smile from the postgame podium as Spencer Butterfield openly wished San Diego State couldn't complete the feat the Aggies had just barely accomplished.
"I think we'll have confidence going into the game," he said. "It's hard to beat a team three times."
In the Aggies' case, it will be tough to change the trend.
By any measure, the Aztecs are one of the best defenses in the nation. They rank No. 2 in points allowed (57.2 ppg), No. 4 in 3-point field goal percentage (28.8 percent), No. 8 in defensive field goal percentage (38.5) and pick up more than five blocks a game.
Utah State is painfully aware of their defense prowess. In the team's last meeting, the Aggies shot 34 percent in a 60-45 loss. The Aggies scored only 18 points in the paint and turned the ball over 15 times.
"I mean, let's be honest: We couldn't score," coach Stew Morrill said. "They are so athletic and so good defensively."
The Aggies did take the Aztecs to overtime in January at the Spectrum before falling 74-69. Morrill said his team had success offensively in that game and would try to replicate that for the quarterfinal bout Thursday.
"If we can get good attempts and not turn it over so much, that will go a long way in helping us," he said.
Technical foul that changed the game
The Aggies rallied themselves to get in position to win Wednesday. Colorado State helped nudge them there in the end.
A critical technical foul on Daniel Bejarano put Butterfield at the line, where he made two free throws that gave the Aggies the lead for good.
An official statement from the Mountain West officials diclosed that Bejarano taunted Jarred Shaw and, when Shaw turned to walk away, Bejarano taunted another Aggies player. His technical foul fired up Larry Eustachy initially, but afterward the Colorado State coach was decidedly reserved about the incident.
"What I told after the game it's a great learning experience, you know?" he said. "That's why we try to put our players in tough situations in practice so those things don't happen."
Butterfield said the tech was a rallying point for Utah State.
"With the run, he was probably a little surprised, shocked, a little emotional at that time," he said. "The ref saw it. We were able to capitalize on that with free throws."
Rough shooting night for Aggies
Considering the finish, the box score may be a little hard to believe.
For most of the night, Utah State struggled to make shots. The Aggies shot 40 percent, and it was only the second time they beat an opponent by finishing with a worse shooting percentage. Particularly in the paint, where they only had 24 points to Colorado State's 36, the Aggies were bothered by the Rams' physicality.
It helped that Utah State shot 11-for-21 from 3-point range, in the process setting a Mountain West record for most 3-pointers in a first-round game.