The glass slipper was on the floor. This year, the Aztecs stomped on it. San Diego State – well, Xavier Thames, really – took out 12th-seeded North Dakota State 63-44 at Spokane Arena on Saturday afternoon to exorcise the ghosts of last year’s NCAA Tournament loss to Florida Gulf Coast and earn just the school’s second trip to the Sweet 16. The news gets even better: The fourth-seeded Aztecs (31-4) now get to play at Anaheim’s Honda Center, where they beat UCLA two years ago and beat Marquette earlier this season to win the Wooden Legacy Tournament. On Thursday, they’ll get the winner of Sunday’s game at Viejas Arena between top-seeded Arizona and Gonzaga. The Bison (26-7) were able to control the tempo and shut down most of SDSU’s offensive options, but they had no answer for Thames. He finished with 30 points – one off his career high – and continually shredded them with ball screens, creating or scoring baskets over and over and over when SDSU needed them most. At one point in the second half, Thames had 24 points and the rest of the team had 23. Equally impressive was SDSU’s vaunted defense, which won the battle against the national leader in field-goal percentage. The Bison came into the game shooting 51 percent and managed just 31.9 (15 of 47). Kory Brown, with 13 points, was their only player in double figures. The Aztecs took a 30-23 lead at halftime, pushed it into double figures, held off a few Bison runs and then learned their lesson from the last-minute collapse against New Mexico State two days earlier – when they needed overtime to advance. This time, they expanded the lead. Dwayne Polee II continued his spark off the bench, finishing with 15 points on 4 of 8 shooting to go with six rebounds. Josh Davis had six points and 12 rebounds. Taylor Braun, a 6-foot-7 guard, leads North Dakota State in scoring (18 points) and was the Summit League player of the year and tournament MVP. But he hadn’t faced anybody quite like Polee or JJ O’Brien – with size and length and athleticism. Braun made his first shot, a turnaround jumper in the lane on the Bison’s first possession.
Thames, SD St. Aztecs stampede past NDSU Bison, 63-44
San Diego Union-Tribune | Mar 22