March 14, 2009

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Luke Nevill scored 10 of his 18 points in the second half of a defense-dominated game, and Shaun Green's steal right before the buzzer clinched Utah's 52-50 victory over San Diego State on Saturday for the Mountain West Conference tournament title.

Lawrence Borha scored 12 points and hit three free throws in the final 12.8 seconds for the second-seeded Utes (24-9), the regular-season co-champs. They won their second Mountain West tournament title not with scoring, but by limiting San Diego State star Lorrenzo Wade to 12 points on 5-of-16 shooting.

Richie Williams hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the final 14 seconds for San Diego State to make it 51-50. After Borha missed his last free throw with 7.6 seconds left, Williams drove downcourt for a final shot - but Green swiped cleanly from his hands on the perimeter for probably the biggest play of the senior's career.

Carlon Brown added 10 points for the Utes, who managed just one field goal in the final 8 minutes, but stayed just ahead of the Aztecs (23-9) with free throws until Green's big defensive play.

The 7-foot-2 Nevill, the Mountain West's player of the year, had 15 rebounds while collecting the tournament MVP award. He paused for a long moment on the barely-needed ladder while cutting down the net, soaking in the cheers from Utah fans who flooded the court at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Utah is headed to its first NCAA tournament since 2005, while fourth-seeded San Diego State also is likely to get in despite this unappealing finale.

Ryan Amoroso had 11 points and 15 rebounds for the Aztecs, but star scorers Wade and Kyle Spain combined for just 21 points on 9-of-25 shooting. Wade carried the Aztecs to victories in the tournament's first two rounds, but the senior didn't have his shot from the opening moments against the Utes.

The Utes took the lead by opening the second half with a 10-2 run, and they settled into a groove of passing down low to their Australian center at every opportunity. Nevill went 6-for-9 from the free throw line, and his picture-perfect jump hook put Utah ahead 43-38 with 3:51 to play.

The gritty win completed a tournament sweep for the Utes, whose women's team also won the regular-season league title before beating San Diego State in the tournament championship game three hours earlier.

Along with the undefeated Utah football team's Mountain West title and subsequent demolition of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, the 2008-09 athletic year is shaping up as arguably the most remarkable in school history - and it's not over yet.

Under second-year coach Jim Boylen, the Utes shared the regular-season Mountain West title with BYU and New Mexico despite losing two of their last three games before the tournament.

After a long week in Las Vegas, San Diego State likely is headed for its third NCAA tournament in coach Steve Fisher's decade at the school. The Aztecs reached the final with a gritty win over UNLV, the tournament's host and two-time champion, followed by a come-from-behind victory over top-seeded BYU.

Utah reached the final with a last-second win over TCU followed by a methodical semifinal victory over Wyoming led by Nevill's relentless inside play.

San Diego State led 20-18 after an awful first half for both teams. Utah went 8:03 between field goals while struggling to run simple plays, and San Diego State was just 8-for-25, including Wade's 3-for-8 shooting.