SDSU vs. Fresno State: Part III

by Staff

BACK TO NORMAL: With the return of Jason Richey, Matt Watts (above) will be back at shooting gaurd tonight against Fresno State.
Travis Lindquist/Daily Aztec Photos

LAS VEGAS ? They weren’t expected to even make the Western Athletic Conference Tournament, but they did. It was considered a stretch for them to defeat Wyoming in the first round, but they did.

The San Diego State men’s basketball team has made a living out of proving people wrong all season.

“We haven’t been expected to do very much all season. It seems there was always someone doubting us,” SDSU head coach Fred Trenkle said. “I think we play better when we’re not expected to win, when someone’s doubting us; when we are favored we always seem to lose.”

Trenkle will get his wish tonight in the WAC quarterfinals, as the Aztecs are the considerable underdog against Fresno State.

And for good reason.

FSU is bigger, faster and stronger, and they certainly have more players then the Aztecs. Yet despite all of those factors, it won’t be a stretch for SDSU to remain close and possibly pull off the impossible once again.

The teams have met twice this season, once in Fresno and once in San Diego, with the Bulldogs winning both contests. But in both of those games, FSU was forced to come from behind to win.

“We’ve played well against Fresno this season, almost well enough to win both games,” Aztecs point guard Jason Richey said. “I’m especially looking forward to playing (FSU) because I wasn’t able to play the last time we met.”

SDSU will have Richey as an extra ingredient that it didn’t have last week when the teams met. With him in the lineup Kevin Betts and Matt Watts move back to their accustomed positions, small forward and shooting guard, respectively.

“Richey’s a good player and it definitely makes a difference for their team when he’s in there,” Bulldogs assistant coach Danny Tarkanian said. “He does a lot of things out on the court and enables his teammates to do the same when he’s in there.”

Besides the intangibles Richey brings to tonight’s game, the Aztecs have several other things going for them:

* During last year’s WAC Tournament, teams that had the first round bye, which the Bulldogs had this season, struggled in the quarterfinals. In fact, FSU was beaten badly by Texas Christian in the second round.

* The Bulldogs come into the tournament struggling, barely defeating a depleted SDSU squad and suffering their worst home loss of the season to Hawaii, a team the Aztecs beat twice this season.

* SDSU has played FSU close both times they’ve met this season and are confident they can compete and possibly defeat the Bulldogs.

“We’ve given (FSU) all they could handle both times we’ve played them this year,” Trenkle said. “So I’m confident that we’ll be ready to play (tonight).”

* One last intangible the Aztecs have going for them: pressure. FSU is supposed to not only beat SDSU, but beat them badly. The men from Montezuma Mesa weren’t even supposed to get to the tournament ? let alone be in position to advance to the semifinals. The Bulldogs are expected to play and play well in head coach Jerry Tarkanian’s old stomping grounds (Thomas & Mack Arena).

While the Aztecs have a lot going for them, it still will be a stretch for them to upset FSU.

The reason why:

* The Bulldogs are loaded with talent at every position and have a bench that could compete with many teams in the country. Their depth coupled with their ability to shuffle in players is something SDSU can’t compensate for.

* With the reinstatement of 6-foot-11 center Avondre Jones last week, FSU now has an inside presence capable of matching up with Aztecs center Roy Kruiswyk. It was something they had trouble with in the team’s two previous meetings this season.

* The penetrating ability of Bulldogs shooting guard Chris Herren. Both times these teams have met this season, it was Herren’s ability to break down the defense and get to the basket that proved to be the deciding factor.

“Herren’s a good player who has the ability to get to the basket every time down the court,” said Watts, who will be matched up against Herren. “It will be a challenge and one I look forward to.”

The challenge is there for SDSU. The only question remaining is, will they meet it?

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