The first time San Diego State faced Fresno State this season back in January Malik Pope suffered a groin injury and was unable to finish the contest.
The Aztecs lost that game on their home court 77-73.
When the Scarlet and Black traveled to Fresno for their second matchup, the Bulldogs ran the Aztecs off the floor 79-61.
Trey Kell didn’t play that February night because he was still nursing an ankle injury.
The third meeting was different.
On Thursday, both seniors were healthy and efficient against the Bulldogs as the Aztecs avenged those defeats with a 64-52 win in the quarterfinal round of the Mountain West conference tournament.
Pope set the tone in the first half and scored eight of his 12 points before intermission.
His hole-punch dunk off a nice find by Jeremy Hemsley seemed to give the Aztecs a jolt of confidence in the early going.
Kell led all scorers with 16 points and freshman Matt Mitchell chipped in with 10.
The St. Augustine alum even did a Reggie Miller impersonation late in the first half when he tricked a defender to jump into him on a pump fake and drilled a slingshot trey despite getting fouled.
SDSU led 29-26 at halftime and expanded its lead to 14 in the second half.
“Both Trey and Malik do the right things,” gushed SDSU head coach Brian Dutcher. “If they draw a double team, they move the ball. If they play one-on-one, they're both capable of scoring. There's great comfort as a coach to put the ball in their hands and know the right thing is going to happen.”
“There was some added motivation knowing we haven't beat them yet this year,” explained Kell. “Especially the last time we played them (and) the way we lost. We… don't take anything for granted.”
Senior center Kameron Rooks helped the cause with six points and seven rebounds.
It was the second strong outing for the transfer from Cal – who could be an X-Factor against Nevada on Friday just like he was during this past Saturday’s upset win over the Wolfpack at Viejas Arena.
Jalen McDaniels contributed a couple of highlight-reel dunks in the second half and collected a total of nine points and seven rebounds.
San Diego State’s team defense also loomed large.
The Bulldogs sank only three of their 14 attempts from behind the arc and shot just 37 percent from the floor overall.
“We look like Aztec teams of old,” added Dutcher, “where we can struggle through an offensive period or two because our defense is so strong. And that has kind of spearheaded our 7-game streak right now. And we have to continue to defend if we want to advance in this tournament.”
SDSU plays Nevada in the MW semifinal round Friday at 6 p.m. PT.
The top-seeded Wolfpack avoided an upset in a virtual road game against UNLV by digging out of a double-digit deficit and escaping with a 79-74 victory.
“They're a fantastic team. We can all see that,” said Dutcher. “What they've done with their body of work this year. And it's going to be a real challenge. But having just played them less than a week ago, the game prep is pretty much the same for both teams, I'd imagine.
“There will be a tweak here or there, but in playing in 24 hours, there's not a lot each team is going to do. We are who we are.”