March 24, 2011
SAN DIEGO (AP) - Now that San Diego State has reached the NCAA round of 16 for the first time, the easiest part will be the bus ride up the freeway to Anaheim.
Once there, star guard Kemba Walker and the No. 3 seed UConn Huskies will be waiting for the second-seeded Aztecs on Thursday.
To keep their dream season alive, the Aztecs (34-2) will have to play better than they did in escaping with a 71-64 double-overtime win against Temple on Saturday.
They also have to find a way to slow down Walker, who averages 23.6 points per game.
The Aztecs are the clearly the novices in the West. UConn has won two national championships, in 1999 and 2004, both through the West. The other regional semifinal is between top-seeded Duke, which has four national titles, and fifth-seeded Arizona, which has one.
By comparison, SDSU has won only two games - both this year - in seven NCAA tournament appearances.
"We're just trying to play hard and compete with all these teams that have great tradition and trying to get to a Final Four," SDSU senior forward Malcolm Thomas said on Monday. "That's everyone's dream. But we've got to play a lot better if we want to get there."
SDSU blew an 11-point lead against Temple, had spotty shooting all night and committed crucial turnovers.
The Aztecs hope that facing Jimmer Fredette three times this season will help them defend Walker. Fredette led BYU to two regular-season victories against the Aztecs, who then beat the Cougars in the Mountain West Conference tournament championship game.
"I think it's going to take a group effort," guard D.J. Gay said. "He's a very good scorer, very good player. It's going to take more than one guy to slow him down. I don't know if we're going to stop him. But just like Fredette, try to contain him.
"We'll just have to make adjustments on the fly. We've never played them before. It's going to be a game of adjustments," Gay said.
"Jimmer, he gets a couple steps past halfcourt and he can shoot a 3 and it will go in," Thomas said. "Kemba's more of a take-it-off-the-dribble, attack the basket. He has a variety of moves. I would say the difference is just penetration. Kemba penetrates more. They're both great players. We're going to do our best to contain him."
Said coach Steve Fisher: "They're both big-time, big-time scorers, and hopefully having played Fredette will help us a little bit in terms of an initial thought process."
Fredette scored 43 and 25 points against the Aztecs in a pair of 13-point wins in the regular season, then had 30 in SDSU's 72-54 victory in the MWC tourney title game.
UConn (28-9) has won seven straight, including five in a row en route to the BIG EAST tournament title followed by NCAA victories against Bucknell and Cincinnati.
SDSU also has won seven straight. Senior forward Billy White has gotten hot at the right time, with three straight double-doubles.
Fisher knows the Aztecs will be playing an elite program that expects to make a deep tournament run every year.
"This is our first go-round and yet, I do believe that we will have the same energy, excitement and confidence that we can come in and perform," Fisher said. "We want to play. We want to win. We are not going to sit back and say, 'Boy, we made it.' We're still playing, but we've got work to do. That's what everybody's saying now. After Thursday-Friday, there will be eight of us that'll be saying it, and hopefully we will be one of those eight."