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Aztecs aim to end run of futility in NCAAs

TUCSON, Ariz. — San Diego State put together its most successful season in 90 years as a program, winning a school-record 32 games, a share of the Mountain West regular-season title and a conference tournament championship to boot.

One loss is all it’ll take to wipe some of the varnish off.

Fair or not, everything the second-seeded and sixth-ranked Aztecs have done this season takes a backseat to whether they can beat 15th-seeded Northern Colorado in the second round of the NCAA Tournament today.

Finally break that streak of losing in the NCAA Tournament and San Diego State solidifies its place among the West Coast powers in college basketball. Lose and, well, the Aztecs are just another good-during-the-season team that can’t get it done in March.

“Everybody in the tournament will be judged with double exclamation points if they’ve had a great season by what they do in the tournament,” Aztecs coach Steve Fisher said Wednesday. “Whatever happens to us in the tournament will not take away from a great regular season … yet people remember those (teams) that advance.”

San Diego State (32-2) has made steady progress under Fisher, reaching the NCAAs in 2002, 2006 and 2010.

Problem is, the Aztecs can’t win when they get there.

San Diego State is 0-for-6 in the NCAAs, including a three-point loss to Tennessee in the first round last season. The Aztecs’ only success came in the Division II tournament in the 1950s and 1960s.

Fisher hasn’t done much to remind his players about the streak, sticking to his mantra that they need to play hard, no matter the opponent or point in the season.

“Since day one, he told us that we were a very good team and have the capability of having a very special season and to make sure not to get caught up in the hype,” Aztecs guard D.J. Gay said. “Because with a couple of losses all that stuff can go away.”

San Diego State at least has the advantage of knowing what to expect after playing in the NCAA Tournament last season.

The Bears (21-10) have never been here before.

Northern Colorado officially joined Division I in 2006-07 and, after a couple of ugly seasons, has been steadily building as a program. This season, the Bears won the Big Sky Conference regular-season and tournament titles to make the field of 68.

Northern Colorado is filled with tenacious rebounders, can shoot well from the foul line and the 3-point arc and has high-scoring guard Devon Beitzel. And, after a few jittery moments at the first practice in the desert, the Bears feel they belong.

“Our first practice down here they lacked a little bit of focus, which is understandable,” first-year Northern Colorado coach B.J. Hill said. “But once we brought them back about 15 minutes into practice, I thought we got a lot out of it.”

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