TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — After a little scare from Little Jimmer, San Diego State advanced in the NCAA tournament for the first time.
Kawhi Leonard had 21 points and 10 rebounds and second-seeded San Diego State withstood Devon Beitzel’s scoring burst to beat Northern Colorado 68-50 on Thursday.
PHOTO GALLERY: UNC In The Big Dance
The Aztecs (33-2) had their hands full with the 15th-seeded Bears of the Big Sky early, looking like that NCAA winless streak could hit seven games. San Diego State pulled away behind its defense in the second half, holding Northern Colorado (21-11) scoreless for nearly 7 minutes to avoid the upset.
Billy White had 12 points and 13 rebounds for the Aztecs, who will face Temple in the West regional Saturday.
White helped stop the Jimmer Fredette Show in the Mountain West Conference final and the Aztecs tapped Chase Tapley to chase Northern Colorado’s Little Jimmer, Beitzel.
Tapley hounded Beitzel into a tough-shooting first half, but the Big Sky player of the year scored eight quick points in the second to get Northern Colorado within three. Beitzel and the rest of the Bears went cold after that, though, their hopes of leaving their first trip to the NCAA tournament with a win squashed by San Diego State’s 13-0 run.
The Aztecs put together their best season in 90 years as a program, setting a school record for wins and avenging their only two losses during the regular season by steamrolling BYU and Fredette in the Mountain West Conference tournament title game.
What San Diego State needed to punctuate it was an NCAA tournament victory.
The Aztecs had been to the NCAA tournament six prior times and had a first-round exit in each, including three under coach Steve Fisher. San Diego State was hoping to avoid losing some of the national luster it had built up during the regular season and strip itself of that can’t-get-it-done-in-March label.
They did it behind another big game by Leonard and a hounding defense that held Northern Colorado to 33 percent shooting and one big second-half scoring drought.
Northern Colorado’s task was to avoid getting run over while staring at the lights on the big stage.
The Bears have only been a Division I program since 2006-07 and made a quick climb after a rough start, winning this season’s Big Sky regular-season and tournament titles to get into the NCAAs for the first time.
Northern Colorado has a pack of tenacious rebounders and one of the best smaller-program players in Beitzel, the nation’s 12th-leading scorer (21.4 points).
But this was a much bigger stage, against a longer, more athletic team than anything the Bears see in the Big Sky.
San Diego State’s also had some success stopping high-scoring guards, too, holding Fredette to 10-of-25 shooting in the MWC title game.
White got a lot of credit for putting a stop to Jimmer Time and figured to get the task of controlling Beitzel.
Instead, Fisher changed things up, sending Tapley out to hound Beitzel.
It worked in the first half.
Beitzel hit some shots early, but had to work hard for everything he got, even to get through screens. Tapley swatted a shot from behind after Beitzel got by him in the early going, then got a piece of a 3-point attempt a few minutes later.
Beitzel had eight points on 3-of-8 shooting in the first half, though he got enough help from his teammates to keep the Bears within six.
Then he gave Northern Colorado hope of the upset.
Getting good screens from his teammates, the senior heated up, popping in a pair of 3-pointers and a just-the-right-English drive through the lane in the first 4 minutes. Beitzel added another 3 that made it 38-35 with just over 14 minutes left.
Turned out to be the end for Northern Colorado.
Struggling against San Diego State’s pressure, the Bears didn’t score again until Mike Proctor hit a layup with 7 1/2 minutes left.
The Aztecs pushed its lead to 16 during the scoreless streak and never let the Bears close after that, finally dancing their way into the NCAA’s third round.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)