SDSU Basketball Wasn’t Always A Hot Ticket But It Is Now
Watch sports columnist Jay Paris on Monday on Evening Edition. The local news program airs at 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
Monday, March 24, 2014
Aired 3/24/14 on KPBS News.
Sports columnist Jay Paris shares his take on the Aztecs and their winning ways as they advanced over the weekend to the Sweet 16 round in the NCAA men's basketball tournament. The team plays Arizona on Thursday in Anaheim.
The fistful of tickets would go wanting.
"Anyone interested in going to the San Diego State game?'' Aztecs coach Steve Fisher once begged.
Not. Many. Takers.
Anyone interested now in cramming aboard the brimming SDSU bandwagon?
Not. Many. Seats.
Was it really that long ago that Fisher, who turns 69 on Monday, cruised Montezuma Mesa begging an apathetic student body to cheer for the woeful Aztecs? Back when then-Cox Arena was considered among the most dreadful places on Earth?
But that's a distant memory to those beating a path this week to Anaheim's Honda Center, down the road from the Happiest Place on Earth, for the NCAA Tournament West Regional.
Let's say it: The Aztecs were a Mickey Mouse program when Fisher, a veteran coach with impressive credentials and one last shot at the big time, arrived in 1999.
SDSU hadn't reached the NCAA Tournament since 1984-85. The team won five games in Fisher's first season.
This year, the surging Aztecs had a regular season record of 31-4 and advanced on Saturday to their second Sweet 16 showing in three years.
By eliminating New Mexico State and North Dakota State, the fourth-seeded Aztecs have some San Diego sports fans believing that SDSU could be closing in on its first national championship.
That trek to the April 7 title game in Arlington, Texas, remains daunting. But the Aztecs are no longer all hat and no cattle.
Not after a season in which they won 20 straight games, captured the Mountain West Conference and are two wins shy of reaching the Final Four.
But first is a tricky matchup with Arizona on Thursday.
Arizona (32-4) is a familiar foe in that the teams squared off earlier this season. In a Nov. 14 contest that was closer than the 69-60 final score indicated, the Wildcats handed the Aztecs their lone home loss.
Top-seeded Arizona, which was ranked No. 1 for a considerable stretch this season, is no fluke. It defeated Weber State and Gonzaga in punching its Anaheim ticket. It features guard Nick Johnson, the Pac-12 player of the year, and Aaron Gordon, a sensational freshman forward.
But it is also missing standout forward Brandon Ashley, who broke his foot on Feb. 1 and is out for the year.
SDSU counters with guard Xavier Thames, the Mountain West player of the year, and a school-record setting shot-blocker in forward Skylar Spencer. Plus, there's sturdy forward Josh Davis causing havoc on the boards, and spry guard Dwayne Polee II presenting energy off the bench.
Thursday can't come soon enough for Aztecs fans. Thousands will travel to Anaheim; others unable to score Southern California's hottest ticket will cram local sports bars.
All will claim to be longtime Aztecs fans. None will claim they once rebuffed a pleading Fisher.
Jay Paris is a freelance sports columnist in San Diego County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @jparis_sports.