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Aztecs flash NCAA credentials

Billy White can’t say for sure if San Diego State has done enough to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.

But he is certain about this: He’ll never forget his career-high 28-point performance in the Aztecs’ 72-69 victory over top-seeded New Mexico in the semifinals of the Mountain West Conference tournament Friday at the Thomas & Mack Center.

By knocking off the nation’s No. 8 team, fourth-seeded San Diego State (24-8) advanced to the MWC championship game against third-seeded UNLV (25-7) at 4 p.m. today.

"It was probably the most important game of my life, and to do it at home makes it even more special," said White, who played at Green Valley High School. "We came out there and fought for the whole 40 minutes."

The Aztecs can remove any NCAA guesswork by winning the automatic bid today. But they allowed themselves a moment to savor one of the greatest games in the 11-year history of the MWC tournament.

"To beat a team that’s won 15 straight, that’s No. 8 in the country, the second time we’ve beaten them, is a testament to our players," San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said.

New Mexico (29-4) had hoped to run the table this weekend and gain a No. 2 NCAA seed. Despite the loss, coach Steve Alford said he thinks the Lobos will be treated with respect by the selection committee.

"We’ve got a very good team that’s getting ready to start the NCAA Tournament," he said. "We’re going to get a very good seed, maybe the highest seed in league history. So there’s a lot that’s going to happen Sunday."

Last year Utah received a No. 5 seed, the highest ever by a Mountain West team.

Friday’s game wasn’t decided until the final seconds. With San Diego State clinging to a 70-69 lead with 7.4 seconds to play, New Mexico’s Dairese Gary drove the length of the court mostly untouched and got in position to attempt a winning layup.

Gary missed, and the Aztecs’ Kawhi Leonard got the rebound and was fouled with 0.7 seconds on the clock. Leonard hit both free throws.

White was able to score against New Mexico’s zone defense, making 11 of 14 shots, but point guard D.J. Gay was San Diego State’s most effective player down the stretch.

Gay played all 40 minutes, had seven assists, no turnovers and made a pivotal 3-pointer with the shot clock expiring for a 70-66 lead with 1:07 left. He also shut down Gary in the second half, when the Lobo scored only three of his 17 points.

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913.

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