Undefeated Aztecs March Toward Prominence
January 24, 2011

Back in November, the first college basketball game of the season I watched was San Diego State at Gonzaga. During the broadcast, the ESPN commentator said that these two teams were probably the best on the West Coast. Gonzaga is always good and has made the NCAA tournament for the last 12 years. But San Diego State? Really? As it turned out, the SDSU Aztecs beat Gonzaga that night, and went into last week with a 19-0 record, ranked sixth in the nation.

Wednesday night, in front of a sellout crowd of 12, 414 at on-campus Viejas Arena, the Aztecs defeated the Air Force Academy 68-55, and improved to 20-0. In the first half, the Aztecs did not look like one of America's best basketball teams. San Diego State turned the ball over several times, and only made one free throw. However, they managed a 34-30 lead at the break.

Things got much better in the second half. The Aztecs were making three-pointers, and the free throws started falling, while Air Force was playing a slow-down style that wasn't generating many shots. San Diego State captain D.J. Gay led the Aztecs with 20 points.

The atmosphere at the arena was one of a major college game. The student section was loud, and had several different chants and cheers aimed at either distracting the opponent, or encouraging their Aztec players. There was also the usual pep band and dance squad, but even the non-students were very vocal during the course of the game.

SDSU is in it's 11th season under coach Steve Fisher, and have been progressing each of the last four seasons. In 2007-08, the Aztecs made the National Invitation Tournament (a tournament for those teams that have a good season, but don't qualify for the NCAA championship tournament). In 2008-09, they got to the semifinals of the NIT, and played at New York's Madison Square Garden. Last year, they made it to the NCAA Tournament where they lost by four points in the first round to 15th ranked Tennessee, and this season they are undefeated and seem to be a lock to make the NCAA Tournament again.

The Aztecs' next game, though, figures to be the toughest. They travel to Provo, Utah to face the Brigham Young University Cougars Wednesday night. BYU is the only other team in the Mountain West Conference with a national ranking, and has an 19-1 record--their only loss was in Anaheim against UCLA. San Diego State and BYU will also play each other February 26 in San Diego.

Postgame thoughts: With the new rankings out today, San Diego State is now #4, behind only Ohio State, Pittsburgh, and Duke...After play this weekend, only one other unbeaten team remains. Top ranked Ohio State won at Illinois Saturday to improve to 20-0. Kansas suffered their first loss of the season Saturday, falling to Texas at home...The day before the SDSU-Air Force game, just as I bought my ticket from a ticket broker, the school announced that all men's games are sold out for the rest of the year...Besides having a guy dressed like an Aztec warrior, San Diego State also has a mascot that looked like a Tiger. Upon further examination, the cat was wearing a jersey with his name "Zuma" on the back. I guess that's short for Montezuma, which I guess would also make the mascot Zuma the Puma. Clever.