Wednesday, March 24, 2010
The San Diego State women's basketball team bested No. 3 seeded West Virginia Mountaineers last night 64 to 55. The lady Aztecs will be the first team in the university's history to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament in the 64-team era according to coach Beth Burns. They'll challenge Duke University in Memphis on Saturday.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. And San Diego State is celebrating its Sweet 16. The Aztec women’s basketball team is one of the 16 remaining teams in the NCAA tournament. With me to talk about this is Lee ‘Hacksaw’ Hamilton, sports talk show host on XX1090 and sports columnist for SDNN.com. Good morning, Lee. Thank you for being here.
LEE ‘HACKSAW’ HAMILTON (Sports Talk Show Host): Good morning, and a pretty good morning for the Lady Aztecs, isn’t it?
CAVANAUGH: It certainly is. Now tell us about this upset victory.
HAMILTON: Well, the program has just made giant strides under Beth Burns, who’s in her second tour as head coach of the basketball program. I don’t think anybody thought this team would come together as well as it has. You know, they were staggering at mid-season and they finally got healthy and they’re really playing well and I think the more we’ve seen them in national competition over the last couple of weeks, the more we realize what a gifted basketball team it is in terms of not just size but athleticism and a whole bunch of intangibles that kind of fill the bill. I mean, they went at a West Virginia team last night that was 29 and 5 and plays in a pretty good conference and they banged them. They really beat them up. Jumped all over them, withstood a couple of challenges and it was the exact same scenario in the first game of that regional tournament when they played the University of Texas and that game was at Austin.
HAMILTON: They were playing not only Texas, they were playing every one of the fans who was wearing burnt orange. And they jumped all over them very early. So Beth Burns has a – just a tremendous basketball team playing right now as – probably as well as they can humanly play and on they go to the Sweet 16, and now they’re going to play somebody from the basketball hungry Atlantic Coast Conference, Duke University. So this is fun.
CAVANAUGH: It is amazing. You know, Coach Beth Burns is quoted in the Aztec this morning as saying that the game was just body blow, body blow, body blow. These have been rough games for these ladies.
HAMILTON: Well, they really play a physical brand of basketball. I think the thing that just absolutely stunned me and I think the whole nation saw it in the victory over the weekend against Texas, is how athletic and how quick they are. They move the ball, they hit the open person, they get to the basket lightning quick, and they’re a very unselfish basketball team. They play a style of ball that is significantly different than a ton of the women’s teams around the country. And Beth’s got athletes that are able to execute it and pull it off, and I think the other thing is when, you know, when she came back, as you know, and for the listeners that might not know, Beth had a fairly successful tour of duty at San Diego State as head coach and then left and went to Ohio State and had moderate success. And then obviously was let go, and she bounced around and came back here. But when she came back here, she recruited a collection of San Diego high school players, Coco Davis, Quenese Davis, Paris Johnson, and they were going to be the foundation of the program. Well, I remember her first year when all these players were together, everybody was excited. And the University of Connecticut, which is the premier team in the country, came in here and we all said, well, this’ll be a litmus test to see how much the program has grown. And the Yukon Lady Huskies just came in here and stomped them. It was awful.
HAMILTON: And just blew them out of the building. And it was a real setback. But what has happened, you know, two years removed from that terrible beating is these players are still here together and it’s very much a senior dominated team and you can see the experience now coupled with the athleticism, coupled with her fire and leadership. It’s – This is a real special collection of women playing basketball.
CAVANAUGH: Tell me more about Jéne Morris and Quenese Davis. Did they lead the team to victory last night?
HAMILTON: Well, they did. I mean, Jéne Morris and Q Davis are really the stars of the team. They are both gifted athletically. Jéne is very big, goes to the basket, very aggressive, very skilled, can hit jump shots, can drive to the basket, score on lay-ups, hits virtually all of her free throws, and plays pretty good defense. And Quenese Davis is just a very gifted shooting guard. And normally in college basketball you don’t see this, you don’t see the kind of player that can stand 20 feet out from the basket and hit jump shots, and then she’s very good. And she puts the ball on the floor and she gets to the basket and creates for other players. And I think the intangible thing is they’re very unselfish. They run plays that get people open. They penetrate and dish the ball off. It’s just – Beth Burns has a collection of really gifted athletes on this roster right now and they’re seven and a half players deep. The team overcame some knee injuries early in the season and right now she’s got a bench that comes in and gives them valuable minutes, so this has just really been special to see.
CAVANAUGH: Now as you mentioned, Lee, the Aztec women go up against second seeded Duke, and tell us a little bit about this Duke team.
HAMILTON: Don’t really know yet. Have not had much of a chance to…
HAMILTON: …investigate it. I will tell you that in the college basketball universe there’s the University of Connecticut Lady Huskies and they’re in their own solar system. And then there’s everybody else.
HAMILTON: Yukon has won 74 games in a row. They – you know, and again, I don’t know that anybody is going to beat the University of Connecticut in the NCAA championship game. I just don’t think it’s doable. But everybody else is kind of scrapping. I think the thing that impressed me most is the athleticism of San Diego State’s women and what they did to Texas, which was big and physical, and what they did to West Virginia was big and physical. I just get the sense that college basketball out here on the west coast is much more a running gun game and very much an open game. And this team has the ability to drill three-point baskets, which changed the whole chemistry of a game. So that’ll be interesting to see this style and, again, the Aztecs, for example, in the Texas game hit seven three-point shots in the first half of the game. Just blew the game open because of their ability to stand out there and drill shots. And I got to believe that that’s a wildcard that can keep any team, even if they’re physically overmatched, it’s a wildcard that can keep any team in an NCAA tournament game.
CAVANAUGH: Right. Of the 16 teams left, SDSU has the lowest seed by far so that, in itself, is a victory for them at this point.
HAMILTON: Well, what a calling card. I mean, for people around the country to watch CBS-TV and to see what the Aztecs did to a 29 and 5 West Virginia team after what they did when they trashed Texas, and that game was not close. I mean, at one point they had a 13-point lead before you could blink your eyes against Texas. And the other thing is the resiliency. The Lady Aztecs withstood three different comebacks. You know, Texas knocked that lead down to 8, the Aztecs built it back up, they knocked it down to 5, they built it back up, they knocked it down, I think, to 3. Last night in the West Virginia game, San Diego State’s team had the early lead. West Virginia whittled away, kept banging at it and at one point got the thing down to 2 and then the Aztecs come right back. And at the end of the game, the most important asp – part of the game, Beth Burns’ team kept West Virginia from scoring a basket on their last 9 possessions. That’s pretty good defense, too.
CAVANAUGH: Yeah. Now as you said, though, Lee, a lot of the women on this team are seniors. Does that mean there’s – you expect there’ll be something of a slump next year?
HAMILTON: Well, you’re going – you’re going to have people leaving.
HAMILTON: Jéne Morris is probably going to be a first round draft pick in the WNBA draft in a couple of weeks in the women’s pro league. And, yeah, there’ll be people transitioning but the fact is that Beth – Beth has been able to build success, build success. She’s been able to recruit off of success and I will tell you, this calling card of what they’ve accomplished in this tournament nationwide, she’s going to be able to get into a lot of homes and, you know, possibly sign more basketball recruits. And she’s a really different coach now. When she was a young coach at San Diego State the first time around I think that there was a bit of a learning curve. She has come back as a very much more mature coach, really fiery, very demanding, exceptional game planning. I mean, the stuff they run, when you look at what the other teams try to do offensively, it’s like the engine hitting on all 8 cylinders at San Diego State. I mean, they run some stuff off their offense where the ball comes in, the ball goes out, the ball goes in, they swing the ball side to side, and they get tremendous movement and they run cutters and they run backdoor plays to get people open. I mean, she is really good at designing Xs and Os. So this is – this has been fascinating to watch her because she’s a very different coach now than she was before. Of course, she’s got some great athletes but she’s the one that brought those athletes in.
CAVANAUGH: Exactly so, and it’ll continue to be fascinating to watch. The Lady Aztecs challenge Duke University in Memphis on Saturday. Lee, thanks so much.
HAMILTON: Good, we’ll talk to you again, Maureen.
HAMILTON: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: That sounds good. Lee ‘Hacksaw’ Hamilton, sports talk show host on XX1090 and a sports columnist for SDNN.com. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.