It’s three words few thought San Diego State would mutter: “Bring on Duke!”
But a week removed from losing to Wyoming in the Mountain West title game, the Aztecs get another summit to challenge.
“If you want to be the best you have to beat the best,” SDSU coach Brian Dutcher said.
With flair, the Aztecs will attempt that after eliminating St. John’s in the NCAA tournament’s second round of the South Regional.
Friday night’s win sets up a date with the No. 1-seeded Blue Devils.
Yep, those Blue Devils, among the blue bloods of college basketball with noted coach Mike Krzyzewski, its four national titles and 10 finals appearances.
To get there, the Aztecs had to travel to Charlotte, North Carolina, and beyond the 3-point arch. SDSU converted nine of 22 3-pointers and that comes straight from the gang that usually can’t shoot straight.
“Well, the 3s we got were wide open 3s, and they were taken by guys that can shoot and make 3s,” SDSU coach Steve Fisher said.
Makes sense, especially when it makes the scoreboard spin.
JJ O’Brien paced the Aztecs with 18 points and Dwayne Polee II, playing against his former team, added 15 on five 3-pointers.
SDSU (27-8) never trailed against the Red Storm and now await the tsunami that is Duke (30-4) basketball.
Fisher, as always, is confident about Sunday’s rendezvous. And he admits it comes with a special group of men.
“I’ve loved every team I’ve ever had but this is a unique group and we’re led by our fifth-year seniors,” he said. “Got three of them, (Aqeel) Quinn, Polee and O’Brien, and JJ is someone that I use often, (when I say) ‘play like JJ.’
“If you have a team that will be willing to give up — give of themselves, we had to say, JJ, we’re going to play through you and we want you to be a facilitator when needed but an aggressor to score, he’s as happy if he scores two points or if he scores 22 as long as we win.”
That the Aztecs did. For once, someone isn’t anxious to return to America’s Finest City.
“This was a good win for our program; we want to continue to play,” Fisher said. “This is a stage, as all of us know, where everybody starts watching, the eyeballs multiply with each victory. So we’ll have more folks watching, it will be a bigger deal come Sunday, and if we happen to win, it will be a bigger deal come next week in Houston.”
No problem? All that’s needed is an upset over Duke, which features freshman sensation Jahlil Okafor.
“Coach says it a lot,” said Matt Shrigley, who had 12 points on four 3-pointers. “Take your shot, make your shot.”
They’ll need a haymaker on Sunday, knowing Duke won’t duck.
But the Aztecs aren’t intimidated.
“It’s them that we have to play,” Fisher said. “We were 8 seed. That’s the math, I used to teach math and we will definitely have our hands full. But our players compete and if we make shots and that’s a big if, we will have an opportunity to make it interesting.
“We know not only are they a terrific team but they are a premiere program that is in that elite stratosphere, and that’s where all the rest of us aspire to get. We’re inching our way along, building our own resume.
“They’ve got a pretty good one that’s built on a number of years of great, great teams. Our players and our fans will be very excited to play the game and we’ll see what happens.”
SDSU, suddenly, has a shot. It proved just that on Friday night.
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