After scoring 21 points in for his San Diego State Aztecs in the national semifinal game Saturday, senior star Matt Bradley watched from the bench as teammate Lamont Butler sank the shot that would send his team to the national title game.
“[Butler] man...the second time he did it this year, and we all trusted him,” Bradley said. “He showed up when it mattered. I’m so proud of him, so proud of this team.”
Head coach Brian Dutcher made the decision to take out Bradley with 36 seconds remaining with the Aztecs down one despite only having two fouls. That left Butler and junior Micah Parrish as the only two guards in the lineup.
Following a Johnell Davis miss that would have extended the Owls’ lead, Dutcher did not call for his team’s final timeout to sub Bradley in but decided to take a chance against FAU’s unset defense, a chance that paid off as soon as Butler’s shot went down.
“I feel like coach kind of foresees what can happen a little bit because the play calls can be at random, it’s by feel,” Bradley said. “He’ll say, ‘this guy will take this shot’ and we just go along with him. Somehow he always comes through and even with substitutions, having me out late in the game or having certain people in, it’s been working to our benefit as of lately.”
Mentality has been the key for Bradley in this NCAA Tournament run. Following a big 17-point performance against Charleston in the first round, the senior saw his production decrease over the next three games, including a two-point outing against Creighton in the Elite Eight where he went 1-for-8 from the field.
“I’m like, Okay, this is my redemption game,” Bradley said. “It’s kind of a selfish mentality, and that’s what basketball causes sometimes. But ultimately I didn’t do good that game and my teammate showed out once again, I was in my head a little bit. I was so happy to win, but I wish I did have a better performance.”
A hard few games for Bradley led him to reflect, bringing him back to his time with the California Golden Bears just two seasons ago.
“My old coach at Cal, Wyking Jones, he told me ‘Matt, you got to be the best cheerleader,’” Bradley said. “‘You got be the best supporter whether or not you’re winning or losing, because at the end of the day, it’s about the team,’ and I kind of lost focus on that.”
Bradley, a California man through and through, grew up in San Bernardino, just over 100 miles north of San Diego. Starting out at Cal, success wasn’t the standard for a bottom-feeding Pac-12 team that has not had a winning record since 2017.
“It’s been a long journey,” he said. “In my first year of college [we] won eight games. This year, we’re over 30, so it’s been a roller coaster for me just personally and team-wise.”
During his three years in Berkeley, he averaged 15.4 points per game. But his defense was taken to another level when he joined the Aztecs.
Just a season later, Bradley stands as a crucial piece in a stout San Diego State defense that is known for its ability to cover the perimeter. The all-seeing eye of Dutcher came through, and now they play for a national championship.