DENVER (AP) -- The best player in the Mountain West Conference
has visions of bringing his game and team to a bigger stage.
And Brandon Heath took another step toward that Friday night.
The San Diego State guard hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 36
seconds left to lift the Aztecs to a 63-60 victory over UNLV in the
MWC tournament semifinals. Now, his team needs one more win to make
that other tournament -- the NCAAs.
"I don't think you can look at Brandon's numbers," coach Steve
Fisher said of the MWC Player of the Year's 2-for-9 shooting night
from 3-point range. "You've got to look at when he makes important
baskets. He did that for us down the stretch tonight."
Heath finished with 22 points and didn't hesitate to shoot with
the game on the line. Standing near the top of the arc, he took a
pass from John Sharper and swished the shot to give the Aztecs
(23-8) a 61-60 lead.
"John Sharper had a look at the basket, but instead he passed
up that shot and made the extra pass because I had a better look,"
Heath said. "That was basically what it was, winning a 50-50 game
down the stretch and being unselfish as a team."
On Saturday in the finals, the top-seeded Aztecs will try to
ensure only the fifth trip to the NCAAs in the program's
not-so-spectacular history when they play the winner of the late
semifinal between Wyoming and Utah.
If they get one more clutch effort from Heath and one more
monster game from Marcus Slaughter, who had 16 points and 14
rebounds, it should be good enough.
What they can't do is depend on an at-large berth. Even though
their latest win tied a school record for victories in the Division
I era at San Diego State, and even though they have already
celebrated their first regular-season conference title since 1978,
their RPI rating is only in the 60s.
Slaughter said he's ready, even though he's been a major
workhorse, amassing 33 points and 33 rebounds in two games this
"I never get tired," said the forward, who joined Heath on the
all-conference team this season. "We're trying to win a
championship right now. And coach said to win a championship, it
takes defensive rebounding, and we showed that today, and we're
going to continue to show it throughout this tournament. I'm not
tired. I still want more."
On the possession after Heath's 3, UNLV's Curtis Terry got
called for walking on a jump-stop near the free-throw line.
"It's human frailty sometimes," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said of
the Terry walk.
Sharper followed with two free throws to put the Aztecs up by
three with 6.3 seconds left.
San Diego State fouled Ricky Morgan on the next possession, but
he missed the first free throw and the Rebels (17-13) never had a
chance for the intentional miss and chance at a putback to tie.
Next, Kruger's fourth-seeded team will wait to see if 17 wins
are good enough to earn an invite to the NIT for the fifth straight
Heath and Slaughter clearly saved this game for the Aztecs after
it appeared to be slipping away.
The duo scored every point for their team -- save Sharper's two
free throws at the tail end -- over the final 7:37 to rally the
Aztecs from a 49-46 deficit.
UNLV played great defense, too, denying San Diego State a basket
in the paint for the first 10 minutes of the half. But Slaughter
made four free throws and Heath hit a pair of 12-foot runners to
put San Diego State ahead 56-53.
From there, it was a back-and-forth game.
On the game-winner, Heath's persistence shone through. He wasn't
afraid to spot up and shoot after missing an open look on the
previous possession. He only went 9-for-21 from the floor -- but
made the shots when the game was on the line.
"He made buckets that for most people are tough shots. But
Brandon makes those," Kruger said. "I thought our guys battled
him defensively and made him shoot relatively difficult shots. He
stepped up there when they needed big buckets and he converted
Adams had 14 points for the Rebels and Morgan scored 13.