SDSU makes history with first-ever NCAA Tournament win

by Agustin Gonzalez

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Courtesy of Antonio Zaragoza.

TUCSON, Ariz. — On Thursday, the San Diego State men’s basketball team made history. But after the final buzzer, no Aztec tossed the basketball high into the air. There was no jubilant celebration at midcourt, no champagne popped in the locker room.

SDSU players just shuffled back to the showers, changed clothes and continued about their day. It was business as usual.

With the 68-50 victory over No. 15-seed Northern Colorado, the Aztecs won their first NCAA Tournament game ever, snapping a streak of 15,713 days without a win in the Big Dance. But the team still believes that it has plenty of work to do before it can breathe a big sigh of relief and let the real celebration begin.

“Relief? Kind of,” senior point guard D.J. Gay said. “But we’re not satisfied just yet. We know that we’re a very good team that’s capable of making a run. And this one feels good. But if we win the next one, that one will feel a lot better.”

“We still have work to do,” sophomore guard Chase Tapley said. “We still have a big game on Saturday and keep moving. Keep the winning streak going.”

SDSU got the win from both the inside and out. The Aztecs scored 28 points in the paint and had 14 second-chance points. Whenever the Bears collapsed the middle, SDSU kicked it out to James Rahon (12 points, 2-3 from three), Kawhi Leonard (21 points, 3-5 from long range) and even forward Billy White (1-2 from behind the arc).

“You can’t tell them not to take open threes,” head coach Steve Fisher said. “When Billy White made his three, I’m going ‘No, no, no, no.’ And he made it. So you can’t be afraid to take a shot.”

White also had 13 rebounds (seven on the offensive end) and Leonard pulled down 10 boards against an undersized but scrappy Northern Colorado squad. Overall, SDSU out-rebounded the Bears 45-33.

“We knew (Northern Colorado) was physical,” White said. “We knew that they’re a physical team and they like to get rebounds. So we just watched tape on them and prepared for them. We just tried to play our best, and that’s what we did. We used our length like we usually do and just got rebounds.”

About five minutes into the second half and up by three, the Aztecs used a 13-0 run to put the game out of reach for the overmatched Bears.

Gay started off the run with a 3-pointer, his first of the game and the only one he would hit all afternoon. Sophomore guard James Rahon scored eight straight points and White capped off the spurt with a jumper to make the score 51-35.

“(Rahon) is a rhythm shooter,” Fisher said. “He can get on a run where he can make multiple shots … He did that today in the stretch that kind of took a close game and gave us some separation. And our kids recognized it, we got him some back-to-back looks, and he made shots.”

Coming into Thursday’s game, all eyes were on the Bears’ Devon Beitzel. The Big Sky Conference’s Most Valuable Player, who came into the match averaging 21.4 points, drew comparisons to BYU’s superstar Jimmer Fredette.

With Northern Colorado down by six going into the second half, Beitzel went on a tear. “Little Jimmer,” as freshman Jamaal Franklin called him, scored the Bears’ first eight points after intermission. None of his teammates scored until Mike Proctor hit a layup with 7:36 left in the game.

Although Beitzel had a game-high 25 points and nailed six three-pointers, his style ended up being vastly different than Fredette’s, who looks to score every time he gets the ball.

“Fredette really takes you off the dribble and Beitzel really comes off screens,” Tapley, who was one of the Aztecs primarily used to guard Beitzel, said. “But they’re both really good players and really can shoot the ball and he was on today.”

“The difference (between Fredette and Beitzel) would be Jimmer’s more aggressive, he looks to shoot every time, and he has the ball in his hands constantly,” freshman guard Jamaal Franklin added. “Beitzel was off the ball. I mean, you have to pick up Jimmer right when he crosses half court because he can shoot it from there, Beitzel wasn’t shooting that far.”

Although the team feels like they have much more to accomplish in the NCAA Tournament, Fisher was proud of the history SDSU made today.

“This was a win for everybody that’s been associated with San Diego State,” Fisher said. “For everybody that’s put on a San Diego State uniform or walked the halls and gone to class there, we got a lot of proud Aztecs today. And we are proud also.”

—This article was brought to you by Sterling Collwood Apartments, the official sponsor of The Daily Aztec Sports. Come sign up for the newest green luxury off-campus apartments near SDSU for 2011.
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