San Diego State takes seat at college basketball’s Big Boy Table

Posted: 03/24/2011 in college basketball
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

San Diego State has a seat at college basketball’s Big Boy Table as part of the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history.

Just two more wins and the Aztecs reach the Final Four.

Yeah, it feels weird typing in “Aztecs” and “Final Four” in the same sentence.

The Aztecs (34-2) meet perennial NCAA tournament squad Connecticut (28-9) in Anaheim on Thursday in what is easily the biggest sporting event in school history.

While San Diego State had never previously won a single NCAA tournament game before this season, UConn has won 46 of them. The Huskies are in the Sweet 16 for the 16th time and coach Jim Calhoun has won two national championships.

UConn also features a superstar guard in Kemba Walker with ice water in his veins whenever the outcome of a game hangs in the balance.

The Huskies have had several stellar shooting guards over the past two decades – Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton and Ben Gordon head the list – but I’m not sure that Walker isn’t the best of the bunch. The guy is flat-out scary if he has the ball in his hands with UConn trailing at the end of a contest.

“It just happens, just happens, honestly,” Walker said during Wednesday’s press conference. “When we’re in that situation, my teammates want me to take the shot, my coaching staff wants me to take that shot, my family wants me to take that shot, I want to take that shot. So I’m going to take that shot and I’m going to try to make it.”

The Aztecs didn’t have a lot of fun guarding Brigham Young standout Jimmer Fredette this season and it’s clear Walker is going to get his points on Thursday. The best thing San Diego State can do is make sure they have a three-possession lead with 10 seconds left to prevent another game-deciding, highlight-film shot being added to Walker’s already-large video file.

What might be a big factor Thursday is how many San Diego State fans secure tickets to the contest. The Aztecs have one of the top homecourt advantages in the nation and they would certainly receive a boost if half the arena is cheering them on against the Huskies.

Another thing to watch is how the Aztecs handle the pressure of being in the Sweet 16 while going against a big-time program used to the national stage. The San Diego State players all say it won’t be a factor but I’ve never once heard an athlete express doubts prior to a contest in all my years of covering college and pro sports.

In other words, anything the San Diego State players said Wednesday has no bearing on what happens Thursday.

It helps that coach Steve Fisher has gone much further than the Sweet 16 during his time at Michigan. The veteran coach won’t be startled by anything that occurs and he has a great rapport with his current players despite being three times their ages.

There’s definitely pressure on the Aztecs being a 2 seed but you could also say San Diego State is already ahead of the game just by reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time ever.

Yet you can sense nobody is satisfied and that the Aztecs badly wanted to play either Duke or Arizona on Saturday with a Final Four berth up for grabs.

“It’s been a wonderful, wonderful journey that we’ve had,” Fisher said Wednesday. “I knew we were going to have a good team, I didn’t know how good we would be. I knew that we had a team that I expected and our fans expected to make the tournament.”

And now those same fans are expecting to see the Aztecs playing in the Elite Eight.

Wait, did I just type “Aztecs” and “Elite Eight” in the same sentence?

Yeah, this is a season like no other for San Diego State. Never before have the Aztecs had a good seat at college basketball’s Big Boy Table.

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