I used to cover San Diego State’s basketball program in the days when there were less than 30 people in the student section and 20-point losses were the norm.

The Aztecs weren’t just a bad program. They were horrible, atrocious and a program without hope.

The Aztecs also were ignored by the public. San Diego State couldn’t win games and few people cared.

San Diego State went 5-23 in Steve Fisher’s first season as coach and didn’t win a single conference game.

Eleven seasons later, the Aztecs are in a position that would have been scoffed at in the spring of 2000. San Diego State (27-1) is the nation’s only one-loss team and is playing Brigham Young (26-2) on national television.

It feels surreal to see “CBS” next to the Aztecs on the television listings. And it will definitely seem eerie to have Verne Lundquist and Clark Kellogg calling the game against BYU as opposed to some nondescript announcer working for The Mtn.

The contest is the first network telecast of a Mountain West Conference game in the league’s history. Much of the nation will be getting its first look at Brigham Young star Jimmer Fredette, who leads the nation in scoring and is on the short list of National Player of the Year candidates.

Fredette scorched the Aztecs with 43 points in the late-January meeting when the Cougars won 71-58 to hand San Diego State its lone loss. BYU outplayed the Aztecs during the final eight minutes and deserved to win the contest.

Both teams are 12-1 in conference play and the winner has a chance at landing at a No. 1 seed in next month’s NCAA tournament.

When you reflect back on how bad San Diego State’s program has been over the years – the Aztecs have never won an NCAA tournament game – it’s no stretch to call Saturday’s contest the biggest in program history.

It probably qualifies as the second biggest basketball game – pro or college – in San Diego history behind the NCAA championship game that was John Wooden’s final game as UCLA coach in 1975. UCLA beat Kentucky 92-85 at the San Diego Sports Arena.

Keeping Fredette from another 40-point game is crucial but you will see in this stellar preview that the BYU star is shooting just 38.4 percent from the field over the last six games. (http://prosportsdaily.sportsdirectinc.com/basketball/ncaab-preview.aspx?page=/data/NCAAB/matchups/g6_preview_38.html)

The Aztecs need D.J. Gay to perform well to win this game. Gay has shot just 25 percent in nine previous games against BYU and went 0-for-7 in last month’s loss. Frontcourt dynamos Kawhi Leonard and Malcolm Thomas are playing outstanding basketball and you never known when forward Billy White will emerge with a big game.

Fredette isn’t a one-man team. Backcourt mate Jackson Emery is a solid player and a tenacious defender and forward Brandon Davies has the look of a future star.

BYU has won six of the past seven meetings with the Aztecs and won a close game on San Diego State’s homecourt last season. This game figures to be close and dramatic with so much on the line for both teams.

At some point during the telecast, CBS will surely show the San Diego State student section, which has made Viejas Arena one of the toughest places in the nation to play.

When they do, try picturing just 20 to 25 students and empty seats everywhere.

That used to be San Diego State basketball.


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