What’s that expression? Once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, three times is a trend and four times is downright scary.

If the loser of Wednesday night’s city championship basketball game between USD and San Diego State ultimately advances to the NCAA tournament, it will be the fourth straight year it’s happened in the rivalry between the schools.

In 2001, USD won but SDSU advanced to the 2002 NCAA Tournament as the Mountain West Conference tournament champion.

In 2002, SDSU won but USD advanced to the 2003 NCAA Tournament as the West Coast Conference champion.

In 2005, USD won but SDSU advanced to the 2006 NCAA Tournament as the MWC regular season and conference tournament champion.

That’s three times, a trend. If it happens a fourth time in 2007, take it to the bank in 2008.

With three NCAA trips in the past five seasons (not to mention an NIT berth for SDSU in 2003), this may be the best time we’ve seen for college basketball in town since the Final Four took place at the Sports Arena in 1975 and John Wooden’s UCLA team won a final championship for the Wizard of Westwood.

There has been a buzz in town the past couple of years when this game has come around. Former San Diego State coach Smokey Gaines once said USD-SDSU wasn’t a rivalry because there were so many empty seats. That’s no longer the case.

Now, both teams are well coached and have found the NCAA Tournament. College basketball is growing up in San Diego.

– TOM SHANAHAN

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