Montezuma’s revenge: Aztecs end 22-game Huntsman Center futility streak against Runnin’ Utes

You’ll have to pardon the Utah students in attendance at Wednesday night’s 72-67 loss to San Diego State for being a bit shocked at the outcome. After all, most of them weren’t alive the last time the Aztecs won in the Huntsman Center, a period of nearly 24 years.

But after a flurry of potentially game-tying shots fell short down the stretch, the Aztecs walked off the court victors for the first time in their last 23 visits to the U.

“We got just enough stops to eke out a win, which is very hard to do in this league on the road,” Aztec head coach Steve Fisher said. “Especially in a place like this.”

The Aztecs took the lead for good with 11:54 left in the second half. SDSU guard Brandon Heath had scored 15 points from the beginning of the half to that point and the Utes were having a tough time getting good looks at the basket thanks to a pressing SDSU defense.

But as the game wore down, it looked like luck would eventually be on the Utes’ side, thanks to the ample opportunities given to them by SDSU.

With 1:32 left in the game, Ute guard Ricky Johns sank 1-of-2 free throws to cut the Aztec lead to 70-67. On the ensuing possession, Heath lost the ball driving in the lane, giving the ball back to Utah with 41 seconds left.

Following some passing around the perimeter, Johns got off a contested three-point shot with 21 seconds left, but was off the mark. The Utes immediately got a break when the Aztecs could not inbound the ball in time, turning the ball back over to Utah.

After some more quick passing, the ball found its way to Shaun Green in the corner, but Green’s shot missed badly, hitting the top of the backboard. But Utah would get one more chance. Aztec guard Richie Williams missed the front end of a one-and-one, setting up a frantic finale that saw Johnnie Bryant miss a hurried three-pointer with two seconds left, and Williams redeeming himself with two free throws to ice it with 0.3 seconds remaining.

“I thought those were great looks,” Ute forward Bryant Markson said of Utah’s late-game chances. “We work on those every day in practice. (Bryant) took a good shot, Shaun had a great look; unfortunately they didn’t go in.”

Bryant led the Utes with 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting, while Markson chipped in 12 points. But it was Markson’s four rebounds that were the most striking statistic-as they led the team. In all, the Utes had 25 rebounds, 10 less than SDSU’s total.

Heath led the Aztecs with 21 points, including a half-court bank shot as time expired in the first half. Mohamed Akubar nearly posted a double-double, earning 16 points and seven rebounds. Aztec star Marcus Slaughter finished with 14 points-10 of which came from the free throw line-before fouling out with 6:28 left in the game.

“This was a great win,” Heath said. “We woke up this morning, went to breakfast and saw the paper and there was something about how (we) hadn’t won here since 1982. Everybody looked at that and took heed of it and put it all on the floor tonight.”

At the beginning of the contest it appeared that the Utes would add another blowout to their long history of them against the Aztecs. SDSU led 5-3 at the 19:05 mark thanks to two quick shots by Akubar, but then the Aztecs went dormant.

The Utes went on a 17-3 run, as SDSU didn’t score a point from the 19:05 mark until 11:50 remained in the half. But a 9-3 Aztec run to close out the half got the squad back in the game, and set SDSU up for the game winning second stanza.

“It would have been a blowout if it was all together,” Markson said. “But they came back, fought well and got the win.”

The Utes now head out on a two-game road trip, starting with a matchup on Saturday afternoon in Fort Collins against Colorado State. Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m.

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