Spencer, Shepard lead San Diego State past No. 14 California

LAS VEGAS (AP) — All that Winston Shepard could do was smile.

With 2:42 left in Thursday night’s semifinal at the Las Vegas Invitational, the 6-foot-8 forward backpedaled after banking an 18-foot jumper high off the glass to give San Diego State a 10-point lead over No. 14 California, and his ear-to-ear grin seemed fitting.

The shot was part of a 32-7 run that helped the Aztecs erase a 15-point deficit in the second half en route to a 72-58 victory over the previously unbeaten Bears.

Shepard scored all 15 of his points during the second-half rally, and Skylar Spencer added 15 for San Diego State.

“I felt it, and sometimes you know when the ball leaves your hands the ball is going in, and I just felt it at that moment. Everything felt right,” Shepard said. “I don’t know what it is about the first half. I’m just a second-half player. In the second half I saw the way the game was going, and I knew my teammates needed me to step up.”

Shepard scored nine straight points during a 14-0 run for the Aztecs (4-2) that cut Cal’s lead to 45-44 early in the second half.

A long 3-pointer by Jordan Mathews ended a Bears drought that lasted nearly 5 minutes.

“I think we started settling on the offensive side of the ball, shooting some quick shots and really settling on the perimeter instead of pounding the ball inside,” coach Cuonzo Martin said.

California (4-1) then slipped into a 2-for-10 slump from the floor and the Aztecs took the lead. Spencer threw down a pair of one-handed, monster dunks, and Shepard followed with an alley-oop layup to push San Diego State ahead 50-48 with 9:29 left.

“The thing I’m most proud about was I had no turnovers,” Shepard said. “As much as I had the ball in my hands, I had no turnovers. And I thought I did a good job of spreading the wealth. I did a good job of getting my teammates involved, finding my guys and not being selfish.”

Five Cal turnovers during a 6-minute stretch late in the game helped the Aztecs extend their lead to 58-50 with less than 5 minutes left.

The 15-point, second-half deficit is the second-largest the Aztecs have overcome in a victory since 1996-97.

“We went through a stage where we tried to do things too fast,” San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said. “So we told them to slow down. We didn’t make any adjustments at halftime to speak of. We told them not to get frustrated and we just told them to be patient and pace themselves.”

The Aztecs closed the first half 1 of 19 from the field and trailed 36-28 at the break. San Diego State shot 28.1 percent (9 of 32) in the period and hit one field goal over the final 10:15 while connecting on six of eight free throws.

The second half didn’t start any better for the Aztecs. They missed three of their first four shots while Cal opened on a 9-2 run for a 45-30 lead.

San Diego State ended up shooting 23 of 59 (39 percent). It marked the fifth consecutive game the Bears held their opponent to 40 percent or worse from the floor.

“We played hard, made some plays and got a little lucky,” Fisher said. “We banked a free throw in, we banked a jump shot in and sometimes you need a little good fortune to go your way.”

Going into the game, Cal had outscored its opponents by an average of 85.2 to 64.2

Ivan Rabb scored a career-high 18 points to lead the Bears.

“Defensively we had a breakdown of some stuff, things we’ve talked about and didn’t execute in the second half,” Martin said.


California: The Bears went into the game outrebounding opponents by an average margin of 14.9 but were outrebounded 44-36. … Cal hadn’t allowed an opponent to score more than 67 points in its first four games.

San Diego State: The Aztecs extended their winning streak against nonconference teams from California to 43 games. … San Diego State is 7-6 against Top 25 teams since the start of the 2013-14 season. … The Aztecs are on a 15-7 run against Pac-12 schools.


San Diego State plays West Virginia on Friday night.

California plays Richmond on Friday night.

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