Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion. Kenny Ocker is an RTC columnist and correspondent. He is covering the Spokane pods of the East and West regionals this week.
Three Key Takeaways.
- Xavier Thames is a true X-factor. The San Diego State senior guard is the only thing that separates the Aztecs from mediocrity, but his abilities as a shooter and distributor were too much for North Dakota State to handle tonight. The former Washington State guard lit up Spokane for 30 points while also dishing out six assists. Notwithstanding the ridiculous play of Adreian Payne, this was the performance of the subregional so far. He was unstoppable on pick-and-rolls and hit three-pointers when the Bison defense sagged. When double-teams came, he found open teammates.
- Taylor Braun’s legs were gone. The Bison’s best player left Thursday’s win over Oklahoma looking as beaten up as a prize-fighter who took the title in 15 rounds. The beating he took showed in his performance on Saturday, shooting 1-of-10 in the first half and 2-of-14 overall, finishing with just seven points. North Dakota State needed a far better performance from its senior stud, who averaged 18.0 points per game coming into Saturday’s game.
- It’s Saul over. North Dakota’s Cinderella run stops at one, which means eminently quotable coach Saul Phillips won’t be heard on a national stage. (Next year’s probably not great either, as Braun and center Marshall Bjorklund both graduate.) But hey, on the bright side, not winning two games may mean less media attention and prominence and more of a chance of Phillips sticking around in Fargo for another season.
Star of the Game: San Diego State’s defense. The Aztecs held the nation’s best-shooting team to 31.3 percent shooting from the field. The Bison got eight offensive rebounds and only turned the ball over six times, but still finished with just 44 points. If San Diego State’s defense continues to show up like this, a Final Four might be within reach.