LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) — San Diego State fought through a tight game and won in a runaway to open the Maui Invitational.
Two victories in paradise earned the 15th-ranked Aztecs a shot at a familiar foe: No. 3 Arizona.
Trey Kell scored 15 points and No. 15 San Diego State shot its way into the Maui Invitational championship game, romping over Pittsburgh 74-57 Tuesday night.
San Diego State (5-0) had a tough opener against BYU, but cruised through the semifinals with an impressive shooting display.
The Aztecs built a 15-point lead by halftime and had their way inside against the Panthers, shooting 58 percent from the floor to set up a marquee matchup against Arizona in the title game Wednesday night.
Arizona has won the past three meetings, including a thriller in Honolulu two years ago and in the NCAA tournament last season.
“This will be my fourth time playing them; I’m 0-3 so far and I just want to be able to get a win,” said San Diego State junior forward Winston Shepard, who had 13 points. “We’re just two great teams in a lot of the same tournaments, I guess.”
Pittsburgh (3-2) will try to salvage its tournament after struggling to stop the athletic Aztecs or get much going on offense.
The Panthers shot 37 percent, went 5 for 17 from 3-point range and were outscored 38-20 in the paint.
Pittsburgh faces another tough test next, Kansas State in the third-place game.
James Robinson led Pitt with 17 points.
“Obviously, we don’t feel very good about our performance tonight,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “I told our players, we have about an hour to feel sorry for ourselves and after dinner, get ready for Kansas State. We know that they’re good as well.”
The Aztecs had their hands full in the opening round, needing two overtimes to hold off BYU.
Pittsburgh had an easier path into the semifinals by dominating host Chaminade on the glass in an 81-68 win. The Panthers snagged 27 offensive rebounds — 10 more than the Silverswords had total — leading to 34 second-chance points.
San Diego State appeared to be the fresher team Tuesday, aggressive and active at both ends.
Kell scored six quick points and the Aztecs hit 11 of their first 17 shots to build a 27-17 lead.
The Aztecs kept knocking down shots, going 15 of 24 in the first half to lead 39-25.
Kell opened with a 3-pointer from the corner and Shepard had a three-point play in transition to put San Diego State up 45-25.
That pretty much did it; Pittsburgh got no closer than 13 the rest of the way as San Diego State sailed into the title game.
“I like the way we played,” Aztecs coach Steve Fisher said. “We played hard, we played together, we made it difficult for them to get easy shots and we fought like crazy on the glass.”
Pittsburgh: The Panthers had another good night rebounding, though not quite like they had against Chaminade. Pitt outrebounded SDSU 35-21, including a 17-5 edge on the offensive glass. … Michael Young had eight points on 4-of-10 shooting after getting 27 points and 15 boards in the tournament opener.
San Diego State: Kell shot 7 of 9. … The Aztecs went 3 for 10 from 3-point range. … San Diego State committed nine turnovers and forced 17.
Pittsburgh faces Kansas State in the third-place game Wednesday.
San Diego State gets a shot at its first Maui title against Arizona in Wednesday night’s title game.
San Diego State’s length inside and on the perimeter gave Pittsburgh trouble on both ends all night. The Aztecs blocked 10 shots and altered several others on defense and were able to elevate over the Panthers to get shots off on offense all night. “It was more difficult; taller, more athletic, but also they just wanted it more as a team than we did,” Young said.
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