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Sports Update: SDSU vs. BYU, Padres Spring Training

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Aired 2/23/11

What will the Aztecs need to do to win against BYU this Saturday? We speak to North County Times sports columnist Jay Paris about the huge game between SDSU and BYU, and the Padres in Spring Training.

SDSU Power Forward Kawhi Leonard drives to the hoop for a layup.
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Above: SDSU Power Forward Kawhi Leonard drives to the hoop for a layup.

What will the Aztecs need to do to win against BYU this Saturday? We speak to North County Times sports columnist Jay Paris about the huge game between SDSU and BYU, and the Padres in Spring Training.

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Jay Paris, North County Times sports columnist

CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and You're listening to These Days on KPBS. The game of games comes to the Viejas arena this Saturday. The San Diego state Aztecs will host the BYU cougars, in a combination season clincher and grudge match. It is the school's biggest basketball game of the year. Some sports watchers claim it's the biggest game SDSU has ever had. Joining us to talk about this monumental mash up, is my guest, Jay Paris, North County Times sports columnist. Good morning, Jay.

PARIS: Good morning. How you doing?

CAVANAUGH: Doing great. How are you?

PARIS: I'm doing fine. I'm just amazed college students are gonna get up on a Saturday morning to go watch a men's basketball game at San Diego state. But it shows you how far the Aztecs have come.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'll tell you, we are had that students are lining up now, starting to lineup now.

PARIS: Yeah, I think a lot of those students have become business majors, because they know with that free ticket they're gonna get, they can turn around and sell it for $180 bucks. So a lot of those liberal arts guys are now pushing pencils.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, okay, so Saturday's game against BYU, as I said, it's being billed as the biggest game in SDSU basketball history. Why is that?

PARIS: Well, it's a combination of, really, San Diego State men's basketball being off the radar for so many years. And they have been playing, you know, the hoopin' of the ball there for 90 years, and they have yet to win an NCAA tournament game, which kind of holds them back. But I think it traces back, Maureen to, when Steve Fisher came aboard in 1999, and he showed up, and in 13 of the 14 previous years, the Aztecs have losing seasons, and they were averaging 300 people a game. Fisher shows up who has the -- certainly has the street cred with winning a national title in Michigan and going to the final four appearances, but his first year, they were 5 and 23, and that 3000 spectators had fallen to 2000. So to gauge where that was then to where it is now, where you're gonna be on national TV for the first time in the program's history, where you have a five page spread in sports illustrated that hits the news stands today about San Diego state, and you're the lead story to ESPN.com's men's basketball page, that shows how big this game is and how far the Aztecs have come.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So what is at stake for the Aztecs? I mean, it sounds like they're gonna win no matter what.

PARIS: Well, what's at stake is the reputation that right now, the east coast and other think of San Diego as fish tacos and sunshine and Shamu, and that's about it. And they just can't get over that hump that San Diego state might be a legitimate contender for the national title. A good example is last week. San Diego state, number six in the associated press men's ranging. Four of the six teams above San Diego state lost last week, and San Diego state jumped all the we from number six to number six. They didn't move a bit. So people are still a little hesitant. They're still not that signature win that the Aztecs can hang their hat on, and say, look, we are legitimate. So if they can beat BYU, which is the only blemish on their record when they lost to BYU in Provo, earlier, if they win that on national TV, some antennas are gonna go up.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, part of winning over BYU has to do with stopping Jimmer Ferdette, he's the star guard for BYU who scored 43 points against SDSU in their last game. So what can the Aztecs do to stop him?

PARIS: They told him the game starts at 1:00 o'clock. And they're hoping the kid's not that sharp.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Brilliant!

PARIS: Yeah, he's good. And he's gonna score some points. Now, you hope he doesn't score 43. I think the way he does it too makes him so appealing. He's a big guy, down low, they lob the ball down to him, and he dunks it. [CHECK AUDIO] zany shots, great body control, fearless to drive the lane. So he's the real deal. They through about three guys at him last time, DJ Gaye, and Billy Light and Chase Hafley, none of them really had much success. So Steve fisher, they've knot a good defense. And that's really what's fuelling this run, is their strong defense. And I wouldn't be surprised if Billy white's on him a little more, really the key is to not let him get the ball, and that sounds a little weird, but just to put a face in him on the whole court, and it's not as much when he gets the whole ball, when they play defense. Deny him the ball, if they can deny him the ball, and let somebody else beat him, they got an easier shot, but that's easier said than done.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I think frenzy is a good word to say what's happening over the Aztecs at SDSU. I wonder, what do you think the home crowd -- what kind of impact do you think the home crowd is gonna have on this game?

PARIS: It'll be huge, just like it was in Provo, when BYU beat the Aztecs before 22000 people. That place over at Viejas arena is no longer to be confused with the library, which some students may not know it's on campus. But that place rocks, and they're got a student section there they call the show. And they dress up, they've got signs, they've got pictures of celebrities, they put up when the other team shoots. There's no -- there's no score board prompting let's make noise. It is noisy. And just to show you, 13 sellouts this year at the place, 12414, the big numbers here in San Diego state. And the 13 previous years, they only had eight sellouts. It's become a huge home court advantage, and the players love it, the players will go and bow to the show before the game, they will wander up there and shake hands with the students after the game. It's real, and there's something about a home court advantage, and the Aztecs can certainly claim one.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Just before we have to let you go, jay, I want to ask you one quick question, because the baseball season is right around the quarter, Padres began bring training last week in Peoria, what are the big questions heading into this seasons for the Padres?

PARIS: Well, if you like last years squad, good luck. They're gone. Except for the pitching, they pretty much remade the infield, they've remade the outfield. Of course the big news was the trading of super star Adrian Gonzalez, which I still have a hard time accepting of so they have gone younger, and they've really -- Maureen, they've brought in guys who've come off subpar years, and they're hoping those guys bounce back, and they got them to come to San Diego, so that's really their strategy on that front, the other front is they still have their pitching, and to win in Petco Park with its dimensions and how big it is, and how tough it is to win with that marine layer, [CHECK AUDIO] probably be the template as long as the Padres play there. So the guys coming up subpar years have to bounce back, some guys who had so-so years last year, Ryan Ledwick is left, and chase headily is third, they have to show a little bit more, and they gotta hit that good pitching. But they also have Bud Black, the National League manager of the year, a few are better than getting more out of less than Buddy.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay, well. Jay, are you gonna be at the game or watching it at home eating a big bagel on Saturday morning?

PARIS: I'll see how close I get to one of those 180 tickets to take the kids, it's a little bit expensive. But we'll definitely be looking in, that's for sure.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I appreciate it. Thanks so much, Jay.

PARIS: Okay, Maureen.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Jay Paris is North County Times sports columnist. If you'd like to comment, please go on-line, KPBS.org/These Days. Coming up we'll hear an effort to make San Diego a smart city for electric cars. That's as These Days continues here on KPBS.

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