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Aztecs pull away, break NCAA hex

TUCSON, Ariz. — San Diego State players chased Devon Beitzel around screens, got hands in his face, challenged his shots.

Nothing seemed to work, just like in two regular-season games against Brigham Young’s Jimmer Fredette.

But, just as they did against the real Jimmer, the Aztecs eventually figured out a way to stop Jimmer Junior and finally win an NCAA Tournament game.

Second-seeded San Diego State tightened its defense after a second-half scoring flurry by Beitzel and advanced in the NCAA Tournament for the first time, beating Northern Colorado 68-50 in the West Regional on Thursday.

The Aztecs had made the tournament six previous times and lost in the first round every time.

“This is a win for everybody that’s been associated with San Diego State,” Aztecs coach Steve Fisher said. “And I need to go beyond our 12 years, for everybody that’s put on a San Diego State uniform or walked the halls there. We’ve got a lot of proud Aztecs today.”

The Aztecs (33-2) had their hands full with the 15th-seeded Bears of the Big Sky early and appeared to be in trouble when Beitzel made 3-pointers in rapid succession to open the second half.

San Diego State withstood the flurry and calmly answered Beitzel’s burst with a 13-0 run that turned the potential upset into a runaway win.

Kawhi Leonard had 21 points and 10 rebounds, Billy White of Las Vegas added 12 points and 13 rebounds, and James Rahon made some big shots during the big run on his way to 12 points.

One tournament win finally in the books, the Aztecs move on to face Temple (26-7) on Saturday, looking to make it two straight.

“Relief? Kind of, but we’re not satisfied yet,” San Diego State guard D.J. Gay said. “We know we’re a very good team capable of making a run. This one feels good, but we win the next one, that one will feel a lot better.”

White helped stop the Jimmer Show in the Mountain West Conference tournament final, and the Aztecs tapped Chase Tapley to chase Beitzel around.

Tapley hounded Beitzel into a tough-shooting first half, but the Big Sky player of the year scored eight quick points in the second to get Northern Colorado within three. Beitzel and the rest of the Bears went cold after that, though, their hopes of leaving their first NCAA Tournament with a win quashed by a nearly seven-minute scoreless drought.

A disappointing end, sure, but a big step for a program that had the nation’s worst RPI only a few years ago.

“Where there was a Division II program five years ago, those guys have built a championship-level Division I program,” Northern Colorado coach B.J. Hill said.

The Aztecs have put together their best season in 90 years as a program, setting a school record for wins and avenging their only two losses during the regular season by steamrolling BYU and Fredette in the MWC final.

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