LAS VEGAS (AP) — Jamaal Franklin, playing most of the second half with three fouls, scored 19 points and Chase Tapley had 10 of his 17 in the first five minutes of the second half to lead No. 18 and top-seeded San Diego State to a 79-69 victory against fourth-seeded Colorado State in the Mountain West Conference tournament semifinals on Friday night.
Coach Steve Fisher’s Aztecs (26-6) will play for their third MWC tournament title and automatic NCAA tournament bid on Saturday when they face the winner of the other semifinal between No. 20 UNLV and New Mexico.
James Rahon had 15 points and Garrett Green 10 for SDSU.
The Aztecs were expected to be an afterthought this year after losing four starters from last year’s team, which reached the Sweet Sixteen and won a school-record 34 games. But they weathered a three-game losing streak midway through conference play and shared the regular-season league title with New Mexico.
The Rams (20-11) are hoping their RPI of 21 and regular-season wins against SDSU, UNLV and New Mexico will earn them their first NCAA tournament berth since 2003. The Rams beat SDSU by 17 at Fort Collins on Jan. 28.
Dorian Green had 20 points for CSU, while Jesse Carr had 17 and Dwight Smith 12.
Trailing 39-38 at halftime, SDSU turned it on in the second half and didn’t let the Rams back in, as it did in the first half. Colorado State shot just 35.5 percent after the break.
Franklin, the MWC player of the year, was whistled for two fouls in the game’s first four minutes. He picked up his third just a minute into the second half. Not long after, big man Tim Shelton committed his third foul.
It didn’t affect the Aztecs, though.
Rahon hit a 3-pointer on the opening possession and Tapley made a runner in the lane and converted a three-point play for a quick 44-40 lead.
After CSU’s Green converted a three-point play, Tapley and Shelton made layups to push the lead to 48-43.
Tapley made a layup and a three pointer during the next few minutes, and Franklin’s 3-pointer made it 59-48 with 14:41 to play.
DeShawn Stephens, who had a big game against CSU’s Will Bell, had a slam dunk for a 61-50 lead with 13:36 to go. Stephens had nine rebounds and blocked three shots by Bell.
San Diego State led by six midway through the half and had five-point leads twice after that. Each time, Colorado State came back.
Shelton had a putback for a 26-21 lead with 6:09 left before Green made a layup and Bell made a shot off a rebound, was fouled and converted the three-point play to tie it.
SDSU’s Xavier Thames and Franklin made 3-pointers sandwiched around Bell’s free throw to make it 32-27.
CSU came back and took the lead this time, getting two free throws from Bell and 3-pointers on consecutive possessions by Wes Eikmeier and Carr to go up 35-32. The Aztecs’ last lead of the half was 36-35 after Thames made two free throws and Rahon a jumper. Eikmeier and Carr again made consecutive baskets for a three-point lead, and Rahon’s jumper in the final seconds pulled SDSU to 39-38 at the half.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)