DENVER (AP) -- It will take three wins this week for San Diego
State to really feel good about its immediate future and the
regular season that just ended.
The first of those three was routine, a 64-52 victory over
Colorado State in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Conference
tournament Thursday that did nothing to hurt San Diego State's NCAA
Marcus Slaughter had 17 points and 19 rebounds and Brandon Heath
had 16 points to lead the top-seeded Aztecs (22-8), who advanced to
Friday's semifinals to play UNLV, a 65-64 winner over New Mexico in
a later quarterfinal.
"Yeah, I feel good, because we're still playing," Aztecs coach
Steve Fisher said. "Our goal is to win the next game. If we don't
want to worry about someone else, we've got to get the automatic
entry and that's what comes with winning."
Fisher's team is in the midst of a milestone season, winning its
first conference title since 1978 and amassing a program-record,
eight-game winning streak in the middle of the conference schedule.
Still, the Aztecs remain at only No. 62 in the latest RPI -- a
bubble team in the eighth-rated conference that certainly can't
feel like it has its first NCAA berth in four years wrapped up.
Fisher wants the tournament title to guarantee things. Beating
the eighth-seeded Rams (16-15), playing without two key players,
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 in double coverage all
day. He finished with 13 points, six rebounds and eight turnovers
and played most of the second half in foul trouble.
"I didn't handle it very well," Smith said of the constant
double teams. "I've got to get better on that in the offseason."
CSU was missing injured center Stuart Creason and guard Micheal
Morris, a pair of key cogs to a team that began the season 11-2,
but endured a seven-game losing streak in conference play to streak
toward the bottom of the standings.
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.
"We made some nice steps," Layer said. "But we're not where
we want to be yet."
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.
"You can't give a talented team that many possessions without
bad things happening," Layer said.
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.
"Rebounding is about heart," Slaughter said. "If you want the
ball you go get it. I'm not a 7-footer like Jason Smith or the rest
of them. I'm just a guy that wants to get the rebound, so I just
play hard. Because I have a passion for getting it, so I do
whatever I can to get the rebound."
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.