After double-overtime reprieve, Aztecs set sights on Connecticut


TUCSON, Ariz. -- As the final horn sounded and his teammates mobbed each other near midcourt, Chase Tapley collapsed to the floor. The crook of his elbows propped against his knees, the San Diego State sophomore guard looked to the rafters, took a big breath with a bigger exhale and then looked to the floor.

Half exhausted, half elated, Tapley needed a moment to collect himself.

It was that kind of game for the Aztecs.

Throwing ill-advised passes and casting up little-chance-of-going-in shots, San Diego State seemingly did everything it could to lose to Temple in the Aztecs' second game of the NCAA Tournament.

The Aztecs pulled it out with a rush of athleticism in the second overtime but know they need to straighten things out quick. Up next is Connecticut and dynamic guard Kemba Walker in the round of 16.

"To continue on in this event, you have to be good," San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said. "We're good. We know we're good. But you also have to have a bit of good fortune."

San Diego State (34-2) had its best regular season in 90 years as a program, setting a school record for wins and avenging its only two losses by rolling over Brigham Young in the Mountain West Conference tournament.

The Aztecs seemed to have their hands full early against Northern Colorado of the Big Sky Conference in their opener Thursday but tightened up on defense in the second half to roll to their first NCAA Tournament win in seven tries.

San Diego State had a much tougher time against the gritty Owls, playing well in spurts, only to make mistakes and let Temple back in the game.

Star forward Kawhi Leonard had trouble finding his shot, needing 15 minutes to score. San Diego State labored through the second half, scoring a season-low 18 points. The Aztecs had one why'd-he-do-that turnover in the first overtime to give Temple the lead and two more in the second extra period to give the Owls hope.

San Diego State had the ball with the score tied at the end of regulation and the first overtime and struggled to get a decent look, missing both times.

The Aztecs pulled out the win with their athleticism, getting big blocked shots Malcolm Thomas and Billy White and a steal by Leonard -- who finished with 16 points and nine rebounds -- that turned into a game-sealing dunk.

When they were done, Tapley hit the floor while his teammates let out a collective sigh of relief.

"We didn't want to go home," senior guard D.J. Gay said. "We did make some mistakes, but we did a good job, you know, of fighting back through it. Everybody had each other's back, and that's why we were successful."

The Aztecs will need to be better with third-seeded UConn (28-9) on a monster roll.

Walker had one of the greatest conference tournaments ever, breaking the Big East scoring record by 46 points while almost single-handedly leading a group of underclassmen to an improbable five-wins-in-five-days title.

Walker turned into facilitator against Bucknell in the Huskies' NCAA Tournament opener, dishing out 12 assists to go with 18 points, but was back to scoring in bunches Saturday against Cincinnati, getting 16 of his 33 points over the final 10 minutes -- after injuring his wrist, no less.

The game is Thursday in Anaheim, Calif., giving the Aztecs four days to figure out what went wrong and what to do about it.

"This is a team that, they don't care about what happened 10 days ago much less 10 years ago," Fisher said. "They're proud of what they're doing and determined that they're going to do everything that they can to stay in the hunt to continue to play. And we find ways."

 

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