LAS VEGAS — One way or another, the two top seeds in the Mountain West Conference Basketball Championships have dominated their way to Saturday’s 7 p.m. title game.
No. 2 Fresno State has dominated on defense and through forcing turnovers.
Top-seeded San Diego State has simply just dominated.
But when the two teams – both of which had their fair share of blowout league wins in a conference that has shown it has a gaping dichotomy in its talent level – how will the outcome play out?
Will the Bulldogs come out on top as they did in their Mountain West opener (an 80-72 road win)?
“That was our first game in the Mountain West. That was a huge, pivotal moment for our season. I think it helped us and really was a catalyst for more success,” said Fresno State coach Raegan Pebley, whose Bulldogs gave the 26-5 Aztecs their only blemish in conference play.
Or will it be a repeat of the shellacking San Diego State gave the Bulldogs the second time around in its 74-49 win at the Save Mart Center?
“But, you know, they came and kicked our trash in Fresno,” Pebley said. “That was a humbling moment for our team, a learning moment. But I think we’re a good team. I think they’re a good team. It’s really hard to beat good teams three times.
“So this is just a great matchup for the conference, for the fans. I think ideally you want 1 and 2 in the championship game.”
San Diego State has forcefully bullied its way into the championship game – both their wins at the Thomas & Mack Center have been 67-39 conquests over No. 8 Boise State and No. 5 New Mexico.
The Aztecs got off to a 19-0 start against the Broncos on Thursday night and a 12-0 run against the Lobos on Friday.
San Diego State – last year’s Mountain West champion – has reached the championship game the past five of six years.
“What we do is hard to do. I’m not self‑aggrandizing it,” San Diego State coach Beth Burns said after Friday’s win over New Mexico. “I’m saying it’s just effort. Get down, get in a stance, get after it. I think the way we’ve opened both games has been really impressive to us.
“You get confidence from great preparation. They trust in what they’re being told and then they do it and have success with it.”
Fresno State will make its sixth consecutive conference title game appearance (it played in five-straight Western Athletic Conference championship games before making the MWC final its first year in the conference).
And in this current run to the conference crown and its automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament, the Bulldogs, who led the conference during the regular season in turnovers forced, have seemingly intensified the pressure on defense.
The Bulldogs have forced a total of 50 turnovers and 31 steals in their first two tournament wins, slowing down the Broncos and (at least for a part of the game) the Cowgirls into submission.
But will it be enough to fatigue the San Diego “blazing-start-is-our-middle-name” Aztecs?
“You know, they’re going to be a tough team. They got great players all across the board,” said Taylor Thompson.
“But so do we. So, you know, we’re just going to go in and play our game and hopefully, you know, I think that will be enough, if we just go in and prepare for them the way we know how. I think we’ll win.”
Added Moore, whose 19.5 points per game leads the conference tournament: “I would say just exciting. It’s just excitement to be a part of this, in our first league, just to be part of a championship game.
“Everyone has been looking forward to this game. But we’ve just been taking it one game at a time knowing we have to get the other games done before we can get to the championship.”