12:00 AM ET, January 25, 2005
Viejas Arena at Aztec Bowl, San Diego, California
SAN DIEGO (AP) -- Chris Walton almost didn't make it this far into the season because of groin and hip injuries.He did, and the San Diego State Aztecs are much better for it.Walton scored a career-high 23 points, including 9 in the last six minutes, as San Diego State blew most of a 19-point lead before beating Colorado State 84-77 on Monday night.Marcus Slaughter added 18 for San Diego State, which rebounded from an 88-81 overtime loss to Wyoming on Saturday night after winning its first two Mountain West Conference games on the road, against Brigham Young and UNLV."We knew we needed to come back from that loss the other night," said Walton, the youngest son of Hall of Famer Bill Walton. "That was a tough one."San Diego State (9-8, 3-1 Mountain West) led 52-33 early in the second half, and was up 71-61 with 5:58 to go after Walton hit a 3-pointer from the left corner. Colorado State closed to 75-72 with 2:50 left after consecutive baskets by Michael Morris.Tyler Smith made one free throw and Walton made a fallaway jumper to give the Aztecs a 78-72 lead with 57.3 seconds left.Walton was playing in his seventh game after missing nine straight with hip and groin injuries. His previous career high was 17 at BYU on Feb. 9, 2004."We had a really good idea of what they would do defensively," Walton said. "I was able to get to the spots where I know I could get good shots."Against BYU this season, he hit the game-winning shot at the buzzer at Provo on Jan. 8. He was questionable for that game, having missed the previous four practices."We are all pretty happy he came back," coach Steve Fisher said. "We've been able to be more successful with what he brings to the table."Said Colorado State coach Dale Layer: "Chris Walton was the difference tonight."The Aztecs are 3-1 in conference play for the first time since 1997, when they were still in the Western Athletic Conference, and three seasons before Fisher took over.San Diego State started 2-0 in conference play each of the last two seasons before losing its next three games.Matt Nelson scored 23 and freshman Jason Smith had 18 for Colorado State (9-9, 1-4), which has lost three straight games and five of six.San Diego State led 44-33 at halftime, then increased it to 52-33 with an 8-0 run that started and ended with 3-point shots by John Sharper.Colorado State called timeout just 1:59 into the second half, then went on a 12-0 run to trim the Aztec lead to 52-45 following an inside shot by Stuart Creason. Colorado State eventually pulled to 61-55 with 8:47 left on two free throws by Jason Smith, the closest the Rams had been since early in the first half.San Diego State again pulled away, getting a 3-pointer from Tyler Smith from the left corner and two free throws by Brandon Heath for a 66-55 lead with 7:22 left."I didn't think we played very well in the first half," Layer said. "We told the players to hang in there and keep fighting. We knew if we kept the pressure on we would have a chase, and we did. Unfortunately, we didn't take advantage of it."
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