LAS VEGAS—LAS VEGAS -- Billy White was the ace San Diego State University men's basketball team needed in Las Vegas.
Playing in his final college basketball game in his home town, the Aztecs' senior forward posted his first double-double of the season, tied a career-high with five steals and provided enough energy and electricity to light up the nearby Las Vegas strip in a 72-54 win over 8th-ranked BYU.
"We knew this was a big game for us," White said. "We lost to them two times in a row. Everybody knew that we needed this game.
"I think we just played hard. Both teams played hard. I think we just played a little bit harder today."
The victory gave the Aztecs their second straight Mountain West Conference Tournament championship and an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament starting next week.
They also got some revenge against the only team to beat them this season. The 7th-ranked Aztecs (32-2) had lost four straight to BYU (30-4) and seven of the previous eight games. The Cougars won both games during the regular season by 13 points each.
"This is a wonderful feeling," Aztecs' coach Steve Fisher said. "It's a well-deserved feeling for our kids. Back-to-back championships, and now the anticipate of the next tournament. So we're excited."
Fisher gave the assignment of guarding National Player of the Year shoo-in Jimmer Fredette to White and he made an impact right away. The 6' 8" White bothered the shots of the 6' 2" Fredette and during one BYU possession, White stripped Fredette, led the fast break and finished a give-and-go alley-oop with Malcolm Thomas.
White then let out a scream that could nearly be heard over the roar of a jam-packed Thomas and Mack Center on the UNLV campus.
And he wasn't done.
During one three-minute span of the first half, White scored 10 straight points and helped the Aztecs build an 11-point lead. The Aztecs' all-time leader in field goal percentage, White made six of his seven first-half shots, and all four of his free throws, to score 16 points in the first half. He also and had four steals in the first half. White finished with a team-high 21 points and a career-high tying 12 rebounds.
When White went to the bench for a breather, 6' 7" Kawhi Leonard took his turn on Fredette. The Cougars' senior guard still found ways to score, finishing with 30 points. But that was much fewer than the career-high 52 he scored against New Mexico in the semifinal game Thursday night.
"Our game plan was just try to force the middle," White said. "I knew that I had help in the middle. We just executed that. Sometimes he made hard shots. That's Jimmer. He's going to make shots. We just tried to contain him."
The Aztecs built their lead to 23 points in the second half and Fredette tried to rally his team. The nation's leading scorer netted seven straight points to help cut the lead to 62-52 with 4:49 to play. But a tip-in basket by Leonard and a three-point play by White put the Aztecs back up by 15 and the thousands of Aztecs' fans in attendance started making their way down the stairs to get ready to storm the court in celebration of their fourth MWC tournament title.
BYU clearly missed the presence of 6' 9" sophomore Brandon Davies. BYU coach Dave Rose suspended Davies for violating the school's honor code after the Cougars 80-67 win over SDSU on February 26th.
"We took advantage of that and crashed the boards," White said.
The Aztecs also attacked BYU's 2-3 zone defense on the baseline with Leonard (20 points, eight rebounds), White, Thomas and James Rahon all scoring from the side of the rim on numerous occasions. SDSU outscored BYU 40-16 in the paint.
The Aztecs will spend the night in Las Vegas, then return to San Diego on Sunday in time for a selection show party at Viejas Arena. It's open to the public with doors opening at 2 pm. The selection show begins at 3 pm.
White, Leonard and Gay were named to the all-tournament team along with UNLV's Tre'von Willis and Fredette - the tournament MVP.