The fourth-seeded San Diego State Aztecs fell to the top-seeded Arizona Wildcats 70-64 in Anaheim on Thursday. It was San Diego State’s second appearance in the Sweet 16. Had they won, the Aztecs would have advanced to the Elite Eight for their first time in school history.
For most of the game, it looked like San Diego State was indeed heading to the Elite Eight. In the first half, the Aztecs led and controlled the ball. They rebounded well, which was something they struggled with the last time they played the Wildcats in November. Pac-12 Player of the Year Nick Johnson was shut out and was 0-7 by halftime.
In the second half, J.J. O’Brien made a defensive rebound to set up Xavier Thames for a layup, keeping the Aztecs at a lead at 40-32. Then, the Wildcats responded with two dunks off of two turnovers to close in on the Aztecs at 40-38.
Arizona’s Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson were alive on the glass, rebounding offensively and defensively to help take away any opportunities from the Aztecs. Gordon and Johnson finished with 15 points each and a combined total of 14 rebounds, lifting Arizona to a 70-64 win and to the Elite Eight.
For San Diego State, the loss stung and it hurt. But not many thought the Aztecs would make it this far. Before the regular season begin, State was predicted to finish fourth in the Mountain West. It was often referred this was going to be a “rebuilding” year after losing Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley.
Lo and behold, the Aztecs went on to finish the regular season 26-4 (their second-highest single-season record in school history) and set a new school record in MWC wins at 16-2. They won several awards including Xavier Thames as Mountain West Player of the Year, Josh Davis as MW newcomer of the year, Dwayne Polee as Sixth Man of the Year, and Steve Fisher as MW Coach of the Year and NABC UPS Division I District 17 Coach of the Year.
More importantly, State has set themselves up with confidence for next year. Xavier Thames and Josh Davis will be gone. But the Aztecs had a strong bench all season with the likes of Dwyane Polee, Matt Shrigley, and Aqueel Quinn who each received quality playing time. Expect to see all three with much more next season. Starters Shepard, O’Brien, Skylar Spencer will return. Transfer Angelo Chol will be active for his senior year and high school prospect Trey Kell has verbally committed to San Diego State for next year.
For Steve Fisher, he will return for another season and he’s ready to make another appearance.
“I do think that now we have a perception nationally of, hey, they’re good. They’re supposed to be good. I like that. Our players like that. I think a good pressure of expectations is now on our program. So one of these days we’re going to be here second in the Sweet Sixteen game, and hopefully that will be next year.”
Photo by Harry How, Getty Images Sport.
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