for this game

San Diego St. races past NDSU to reach Sweet 16

Mar 23, 2014 - 1:33 AM Spokane, WA ( - Xavier Thames and San Diego State are headed back home to California and the Sweet 16.

Thames scored 30 points and the Aztecs pulled away to beat North Dakota State 63-44 on Saturday to reach the NCAA Tournament's regional semifinals for the second time in four years.

Thames, who averaged 17 points per game entering Saturday, had 16 in the first half on the strength of four 3-pointers -- the last coming during a 15-3 run that gave the Aztecs the lead for good.

Later, the senior guard scored six straight Aztec points to push his team's lead to 12 with under 3 1/2 minutes left.

"I know it was a big game," said Thames, "(but) it wasn't just me, it was my teammates getting me open, us playing team defense. I did feel pretty good coming into the game, but without my teammates I wouldn't have had the game I had."

Dwayne Polee II added 15 points and Josh Davis had 13 rebounds for the fourth- seeded Aztecs (31-4), who advanced in the West Region to face the winner of Sunday's game between top-seeded Arizona and eighth-seeded Gonzaga.

Their next game will be a 90-minute drive from campus at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., where they faced eventual national champion Connecticut in the 2011 Sweet 16 and where they beat Marquette on Dec. 1 to win the Wooden Legacy.

"When we saw our name called we knew we were going to Spokane and everybody had it in the back of their mind that if we win two games we're going to be playing in Anaheim," said Thames. "But we wanted to come out and win the first game and then win the second game ... It was a two-game tournament and we wanted to get two wins and that's what we did."

Kory Brown led 12th-seeded North Dakota State (26-7) with 13 points while Taylor Braun -- the Bison's leading scorer at 18.0 points per game coming in -- scored seven on just 2-of-14 shooting.

Braun is one of six seniors on the team that coach Saul Phillips said elevated the program "to heights once unimaginable."

"And you know what? We didn't have it tonight," said Phillips. "We couldn't figure it out. We couldn't get the mystery solved."

The Aztecs kicked off their fifth straight NCAA Tournament appearance with a nail-biter on Thursday, eventually beating New Mexico State 73-69 in overtime after giving up a 9-2 run to the Aggies in the final minute of regulation.

There was no such drama against the Summit League-champion Bison, who knocked off No. 5 seed Oklahoma on Thursday for the program's first NCAA Tournament victory.

Thames' six straight SDSU points were part of a 14-2 run over the last 6 1/2 minutes to seal the win.

The Aztecs are on a roll, provided they aren't playing Mountain West champion New Mexico. Their only two losses in their last 12 games both came against the Lobos -- the second in the conference title game on March 15.

Marshall Bjorklund's layup gave NDSU a 20-15 lead before the Aztecs' run to end the first half.

Brown picked the Bison up while Braun struggled, leading them with nine points in the half. The team shot just 28.6 percent in the half and 31.9 percent in the game.

Polee said the plan of defense was to focus on Braun, the Summit League Player of the year.

"We really made an emphasis to kind of cut his water off," said Polee, "and I think it was a team effort and we did just that."

Game Notes

The Aztecs lead the all-time series 4-0 ... NDSU went scoreless for more than five minutes near the end of the game ... Bjorklund scored eight points ... Thames, the Mountain West Player of the Year, had five assists.