Steve Fisher's 150th victory at San Diego State was a little tougher than expected. That made this win a little sweeter.
"Happy Thanksgiving everyone. We were given a pumpkin pie tonight and we put the whipped cream on there," Fisher joked.
Kyle Spain hit a pair of free throws with 11.2 seconds left and pre-tournament favorite San Diego State held off scrappy Western Carolina 59-58 Thursday night in the first round of the Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout.
Spain was fouled after Western Carolina freshman Greg Avery missed a pair of free throws with 14 seconds left that could have put the Catamounts up by three. Instead, Spain was true with both of his attempts and WCU's Harouna Mutombo was called for traveling with less than a second left as the Catamounts failed to get up a final shot.
Spain finished with 22 points, eight rebounds and five assists as the Aztecs (3-1) advanced to play surprising Seattle in Friday's semifinals. "We'll play better tomorrow. I promise," Fisher said.
Western Carolina (1-2) was led by Mutombo's career-best 20 points and Jake Robinson added 16. The Catamounts will play Louisiana Tech in the consolation bracket on Friday.
Spain has been asked to carry the Aztecs with two-time all-Mountain West Conference selection Lorenzo Wade serving an undisclosed team suspension and not with the team in Alaska. Spain was big when the Aztecs needed him, coming up with a breakaway steal and dunk while being fouled with less than 90 seconds left. Spain hit the free throw to put the Aztecs up 57-56, their first lead since the first half.
Mutombo answered with a short jumper in the lane for the Catamounts and after SDSU's D.J. Gay was called for traveling, the Catamounts had a chance to cinch the victory at the free throw line.
But Avery -- who went 3-for-8 at the line -- missed both attempts and Mutombo knocked Spain off balance racing for the rebound. The senior drained both free throws and the Aztecs' defense kept Western Carolina from getting off a clean final shot. "I just took a deep breath," Spain said. "I wanted to shoot them the same way I do in practice."
Richie Williams hit 5 of 6 3-pointers and added 15 points for the Aztecs, who trailed by as many as eight in the second half. SDSU outscored the Catamounts 21-12 over the final 10 minutes.
Mutombo added six rebounds, five steals and four assists for the Catamounts, who saw leading scorer Brandon Giles scored just five points before fouling out with more than 4 minutes left. Giles was averaging 18.5 points.
"We had freshmen out there trying to make plays at the end," Western Carolina coach Larry Hunter said. "We had the game in our hands. We just had to make the free throws. They did and we didn't."