Hungry Aztecs ready to defend MWC title

by Edward Lewis

Practice started early Monday afternoon and the confetti had already been swept away. The nets were back up on the Viejas Arena hoops and the thousands of fans who had stormed the court two days earlier were nowhere near the venue.

On the floor, practicing in front of a few media members, San Diego State men’s basketball head coach Steve Fisher was still screaming at his players, Kawhi Leonard was still dunking basketballs and James Rahon was still nailing 3s.

For the Aztecs, that couldn’t be a better picture.

No complacency has set in yet with this Top 10 squad.

“That was two days ago,” senior forward Billy White said on Monday of the Mountain West Conference Championship his team won last Saturday night. “We’re very hungry. We’re very humble — we’re ready to go.”

It’s been nearly half a decade since SDSU has been in this position. Usually around this time, the Aztecs are flirting with the attractive blonde that is the First Four In and the Last Four Out.

Now, however, SDSU is staring down a No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Aztecs’ ticket to the Big Dance has already been punched.

But White said his squad’s MWC Tournament mentality is no different than it’s been in the past, when his teams had to win to get in. His teammates are just as hungry for the MWC Tournament crown as the rest of the eight teams in the MWC.

“Honestly, I think we’re ready to go,” White said. “I know teams are going to be ready too, I can’t say that they’re not. But I know we’re hungry and we want it more.”

The second-seeded Aztecs will start their quest for back-to-back MWC Tournament titles against seventh-seeded Utah at 6 p.m. tonight in Las Vegas.

A win likely pits SDSU against UNLV in the semifinals and a win there might give the Aztecs their third rematch against BYU in the championship game.

For SDSU though, winning this tournament isn’t about getting revenge or looking pretty. It’s all about making sure SDSU secures a high

seed in the NCAA Tournament and gets to stay somewhere remotely near the West Coast.

“This year we know we are going to be in the NCAA Tournament, but obviously we want to be winning as we go in; we would like to get the highest possible seed,” Fisher said. “We’re going to go in every bit, if not more motivated than we have in any of the years we’ve played in it. And hopefully we will not only be able to play good basketball, but get three wins.”