As a longtime San Diego-area resident, I don’t know if my heart can take much more excitement.
Thousands of fans, myself included, were overjoyed watching San Diego State junior guard Lamont Butler hit the game-winning shot on Saturday night to beat Florida Atlantic, 72-71, to send the Aztecs (32-6) to the national championship game against the UConn Huskies tonight at 6 p.m. at NRG Stadium in Houston.
I believe we can win. Sound familiar? But I honestly do.
Talking heads, so-called hoops aficionados and Las Vegas prognosticators give the Aztecs little chance to capture their first NCAA men’s basketball crown against te Huskies (30-8).
Oddsmakers quickly established SDSU as a 7.5-point underdog. Apparently, the entire country is on UConn.
However, a few things stick out about the Aztecs:
The Aztecs are a team of character and resilience led by 13 upperclassmen on the roster, some of them 6th-year players using the COVID-19 interruption for another year of eligibility.
I’ve watched every tournament game for this year’s March Madness after more regular season games than I care to count. Throughout the season, I observed hundreds of players, teams and coaches, looking closer at what makes many teams tick.
This team refuses to lose. Overcoming difficulties and persistence is engraved in its DNA.
Also, SDSU makes its opponents play ugly. Early in the tournament, the Aztecs tortured Charleston, a team that entered the tournament scoring roughly 90 points per game. But SDSU made them look silly after traveling 2,137 miles to play their first-round game in Orlando, beating the Cougars, 63-57.
Next up, Furman. The Aztecs forced the Palladians into their worst shooting percentage and scoring outputs all season. Then came top-seed Alabama. The Crimson Tide perhaps thought the game was just about over after taking a 9-point lead with about 10 minutes remaining.
But then the Aztecs went on a 12-0 run. This team just has no quit. By the way, SDSU held Alabama to a miserable 23-point first half. Even when it looked dim, they never lost their poise, focus, and cohesiveness.
The pressure of making it to the championship game no longer exists for the Aztecs. The qualities SDSU possesses over any other team in America are remaining calm in tough situations, maintaining control of the ball (no turnovers) and playing the best defense I’ve seen in 40-plus years.
Plus, no one has given them the respect they are due. This is a very good basketball team that plays together (“Together” is the keyword here). Another quality that makes this team a tough out for any opponent is they are a tightly-knit group and play for each other. They have done everything asked of them and then some.
Trust me, they aren’t done. Bad teams don’t consistently dismantle good teams, holding them to scoring far below their season averages. The Aztecs are a great team.
Beware. Let me state it again: BEWARE! The Aztecs have no fear. And to many here in San Diego, alumni and fans, they are already champions.
If they win a historic national title, the city of San Diego needs a parade right down I-8 to the Arena. It’s us against the world!
My pick: SDSU wins by 3.
See you next season!