Originally published March 17, 2011 at 6:15 p.m., updated March 17, 2011 at 6:15 p.m.
Aztec fans gathered at Viejas Arena watched SDSU's first-ever victory in the NCAA tournament.
There were screaming fans and cheerleaders, stands awash in red & black, and even a St. Patrick's Day treat of green beer! About all that was missing at Viejas Arena today as the San Diego State Aztecs won their first-ever game in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament was the team itself.
Savoring the historic and lopsided win were about 3,000 fans who thought watching it together in the loud and festive setting beat catching the game on TV at home. Fans, who got in free, followed the action on the arena's giant TV screens and basically reacted as if they were actually in Tucson, where the game against Northern Colorado University was played.
The next-best thing to being court-side in Tucson was being in the team's home arena with a bunch of fellow Aztec fanatics, following the action on the big overhead screens.
“It’s the same (as a game) I guess," said SDSU student Talia Connella. "We do our SDSU Aztec song and we just all have a great time. It's still loud and it's fun.”
Beer isn't normally served at Aztec games, so the green suds were an added attraction. Rick Barber, Associate Director of Aztec Shops, was manning the tap and marveling at the viewing event. "It is almost a game," he said.
Karen Crawford, SDSU's water-polo coach, said getting thousands to show up and watch TV together is what "March Madness" is all about for team ranked among college basketball's elite.
“I think it's just an experience here that students won’t ever forget," Crawford said above the din of the crowd. "It’s something that will connect them to San Diego State University for the rest of their lives. “
SDSU Cheerleader Kaylee App said she will join the cheer squad should the Aztecs beat Temple University on Saturday and advance to the "Sweet Sixteen" round next week in Anaheim. She said excitement started high this year and just kept building.
“I think it started way back when they were ranked (in national polls) preseason, or early in the season," the cheerleader said. "And this year has just been filled with a lot of firsts, a lot of rankings; a lot of big road wins.
"I think that the boys gained confidence as they continued to succeed and grow as a team," App added. "They said they knew it was going to be a good year and I think it has exceeded everyone’s expectations.
SDSU student Boris Hope stopped in after class. "I wanted to come here today because it feels like being at a live game," Hope said." He is certain the Aztecs will prevail all the way through and bring home a national championship.
Ben Linoli, an SDSU graduate, said he will travel to Anaheim and get tickets should the team advance. But he was delighted to be at Viejas Arena today. "I wanted to feel the crowd's excitement."
State student Mellisa Wu summed up the general feeling in the excited crowd: "There's so much school spirit, why wouldn't I be here?"
Some student organizations found creative excuses to find their way to the big-screen TVs. The university's ROTC program opted to view the game as part of their Thursday leadership training. More than a hundred uniformed ROTC members were in attendance.
"We wanted our group to be able to watch the game and support the school," Sgt. First Class Jaime Lopez said.
And some were content to simply revel in the spontaneity.
SDSU alum Don Morgan came to the game on his way to the gym. He stopped in before his workout to get a glimpse of the crowd. "When I went to SDSU, the arena wasn't even here. Now there's thousands of students watching, it's very exciting."