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Aztecs’ Magical Season Comes To An End In Anaheim

Above: Malcolm Thomas #4 of the San Diego State Aztecs handles the ball against Alex Oriakhi #34 of the Connecticut Huskies during the west regional semifinal of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at the Honda Center on March 24, 2011 in Anaheim, California.

Audio

Aired 3/25/11

San Diego State battled valiantly against a quick and determined UConn team, but fell short, 72 to 67. The Aztecs were eliminated from the NCAA Tournament.

ANAHEIM -- The magical run is over.

San Diego State’s valiant Aztecs roared back once today from a 9-point deficit, but they couldn’t manage the trick a second time.

The Aztecs fell to the University of Connecticut Huskies 74 to 67, eliminating SDSU from the NCAA tournament.

Like two prize-fighters, SDSU and UConn went toe to toe for much of the quick-paced contest. Each team took turns with the lead, though the Huskies were ahead at halftime and for much of the game.

San Diego State, meanwhile, had nothing to hang their heads about. The Aztecs and their rabid fans enjoyed the finest season in the school’s history, finishing with a record of 34-3. And they are champs of the Mountain West Conference for the second straight year.

San Diego fans who traveled here reveled in the drama and intensity of post-season college basketball, their disappointment tempered by the experience of seeing a terrific battle featuring speed and quickness, agility, determination and heart.

One proud observer was Michael Cage, the former SDSU star who went on to play for the Los Angeles Lakers.

"I probably sat down for five minutes the whole game. Because you were driven to go to your feet. And cheer your team on, when it was good and when it was not so good," said Cage.

Kristina Brown, who works for the university, said seeing the game live was electrifying.

“The crowd was great," she said. "We were sitting in the student section and those students were just amazing. The whole place was on fire. So that was really exciting. Good for San Diego State."

Any parent who's proudly cheered a child playing high school basketball, Little League baseball, recreation-league soccer or any organized sport can only imagine what it's like to see your son performing in a huge game on a national stage.

Tommy Tapley, father of SDSU guard Chase Tapley, did little to disguise himself, wearing a basketball uniform with "DAD" on the back. Tapley said he loves his son and this is what he’ll tell him tonight:

“They’ve had a great season, a heck of a run, and learn something from this experience, learn something from this game, and the two games you played before," the senior Tapley said. "And if your eve rare afforded this opportunity again, you’ll be able to use those experiences for the next time.”

But for some, this was the next time. SDSU Coach Steve Fisher, who won a national championship at Michigan, found solace an elusive thing following the close loss.

“It hurts. It should hurt," said the veteran coach. "Regardless of when, where and how. For our team this year. For what they’ve accomplished. It hurts exponentially more.

"They’ve upped the bar for the program, and they know that we’ve got a program," Fisher continued. "And they’re proud of the fact that they’ve had a huge, huge role in taking that to unprecedented heights for San Diego and San Diego State."

The Sweet 16 round of March Madness was uncharted territory for San Diego State. Coming into Thursday’s game, the Aztecs had won a grand total of two NCAA tournament games ever -- just last week.

The Huskies, meanwhile, had made the Final Four round three times, taking home two national titles in the process.

Still, SDSU had more experienced players in this game. And if not exactly playing at home, they were certainly in the neighborhood, just 90 miles up the road in Anaheim.

That advantage went for naught, however, as UConn pulled ahead to stay with a key steal of a pass and a couple of uncontested baskets in the waning moments. The Huskies go on to play on Saturday in the Elite Eight round; the Aztecs come home to well-deserved applause.

For Kara Kraszewski, who graduated from SDSU last year, the game held a measure of serendipity. At the game with her father, she bought tickets for this tournament game in November 2009 after seeing the Wooden Classic Here. It was fate that allowed SDSU to be playing.

“Win or lose we’re still gonna be an Aztec," Kraszewski said. "We’re still going to be huge fans no matter what. As long as they do their best, that’s all we can ask for.”

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