Prior to writing this column, I made sure I took the precautionary steps.
I knocked on wood. I carried my lucky rabbit’s foot in my pocket all day. I stuck pins into my Jimmer Fredette voodoo doll (which I then ran over with my car several times before chucking it as far as I could into the Pacific Ocean). I even visited a Native American shaman who blessed my Aztecs jersey several times while we hung out in his smoke lodge (but that’s a story for a different time).
So, with that disclaimer out of the way, let me just go ahead and say it: The San Diego State Aztecs are capable of winning the national championship, and they’re going to prove that tonight against BYU (a legitimate Final Four contender) in Provo, Utah.
Forget the Mountain West Conference title. Forget the Sweet Sixteen. The Elite Eight? Hell, screw that too. Sure, those accolades would be nice, but this year’s version of the Aztecs are something special, once-in-a-lifetime even, and they have the power to storm into the Big Dance and come out as the last team standing, popping bubbly (or sparkling apple cider for all the underage fellas) and cutting down the nets in Houston, TX.
But first they’re going to have to get past the Jimmers tonight, in what is the biggest regular-season game in school history and SDSU’s toughest test this year.
At Monday’s press conference, D.J. Gay, always the best quote on the team, was asked about the hype of this game and what it meant for the Aztecs. Gay responded, “I think this game is either going to be an `I told you so’ or a `Wow, they really are that good.’ That’s what this game is going to come down to.” Here’s why SDSU will be victorious and have the critics saying, “Wow, they really are that good.”
Spokane + The Pit > Provo
Flash back to Nov. 16. SDSU was ranked 25th in the AP poll, left out of the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll. The Aztecs were a national unknown and were heading into a matchup with then-No. 11 Gonzaga at the McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane, where the Bulldogs had only lost four times in 81 games since the building opened in 2004.
The game was tightly contested all the way down to the wire. The court shook as every fan in the sold-out arena jumped up and down and screamed. And the Aztecs showed the world that they were for real.
Move forward to Jan. 15. SDSU was 18-0, No. 6 in the country and heading into a proverbial “trap game” at The Pit in New Mexico, which was named “the loudest arena in the country” by the St. Petersburg Times.
College basketball analysts predicted this would be the Aztecs’ first loss. The 18,018 red-clad Lobo fans howled at the top of their lungs during every timeout. And SDSU silenced them all with a dominating win.
Although BYU is a better team than either Gonzaga or New Mexico, the Aztecs won’t be fazed by the hostile environment in Provo. They’ve seen worse, and passed the ordeal with flying colors.
The Aztecs are a lean, mean, defending machine
At Monday’s presser, the team was asked a question with no possible answer: Who was going to guard Fredette? Gay said, “Everybody.” Fisher said, “Give me your suggestions.”
All jokes aside, let me put it simply: There. Is. No. Jamming. Jimmer. The Aztecs must hope to at least contain Fredette, a national player of the year candidate, and stop the rest of the Cougars.
BYU’s only loss was against UCLA, which has been the only team thus far to expose the Cougar’s biggest weaknesses: interior defense and rebounding. SDSU will be the second.
“UCLA was physical and strong,” BYU head coach Dave Rose said. “We really didn’t have an answer for their size. That’s as physical as we’ve been guarded with size all year.”
Like a bigger defensive line in football, SDSU has used its size and height to wear down opposing teams in the second half. The Aztecs are the best rebounding team in the country next to Pittsburgh, and the frontcourt trio of Kawhi Leonard, Billy White and Malcolm Thomas will be the Cougars’ worst nightmare.
The three forwards will tear up BYU in the post (especially now that Chris Collinsworth, perhaps their best rebounder, is out for the season) because not only are they quick and athletic, but they grab every single board they get their hands on.
With No. 2 Pitt losing Monday, and a big win on the road against a legitimate Final Four contender, you might see your Aztecs climb even higher in the rankings next week. But good luck getting those tickets then, unless you want to camp out two days beforehand.
—Agustin Gonzalez is a journalism senior.
—This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec