A rare moment in the local sports landscape approaches, of basketball standing to the fore in the pause between our two major sports seasons of football and baseball. This week, the nexus of San Diego’s sports consciousness concentrates on the hoops representatives and campus of Montezuma Mesa.
Fans of Aztecs men’s basketball will assemble Thursday evening to watch their team begin its quest for a national championship, or at least a positive showing in the competition. SDSU plays New Mexico State in Spokane, Wash., at approximately 6:57 p.m. The game will be shown on TruTV (formerly Court TV), a channel available with most basic cable and satellite subscriptions.
For SDSU students and faculty the week brings a March Madness holiday on March 21, when the NCAA Tournament returns to campus for games at Viejas Arena on Friday and Sunday. Weber State tips off against West Regional No. 1 seed Arizona at 11:10 a.m. on Friday, followed by three games that conclude the day with Tulsa facing UCLA. The four winners of the Friday games will play in two Sunday games for the right to advance into the Sweet 16.
The narrative of Aztecs men’s basketball as potential savoirs of San Diego’s collective sports ego suffered an at-least momentary injury last weekend, when the New Mexico Lobos bested SDSU for the Mountain West Conference tournament title in Las Vegas. The loss ended whatever chance the regular-season MWC champion Aztecs had of being awarded a desirable No. 2 seed in the NCAA tourney.
Instead, SDSU dropped to a No. 4 seed behind teams like Creighton, which was seeded third despite an inferior win-loss record (26-7 to SDSU’s 29-4) and a neutral-floor loss to the Aztecs earlier in the season. The slightly lower seeding was tempered by placement in the geographically favorable West region, a potentially easier road to advancement in a “stacked” tournament expected to be highly competitive.
After failing to conquer the Lobos’ twin towers of Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow, the Aztecs will face an even more imposing figure on New Mexico’s in-state rival New Mexico State Aggies: 7-foot-5, 355-pound Sim Bhullar. The exceptionally large human has skills to go with his massive presence, averaging 10.3 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.4 blocked shots per game.
When asked if the Aztecs had ever played against someone of Bhullar’s size, coach Steve Fisher said, “I don’t think anybody in America has.”
Should the favored Aztecs defeat the 13th-seeded Aggies, they would play Saturday against the winner of the North Dakota State-Oklahoma game. SDSU knocked Oklahoma out of the tournament last season before losing to Florida Gulf Coast in the round of 32. If the Aztecs win a second game in Spokane, they would play on Thursday, March 27, in Anaheim, where their likely opponent would be the ballyhooed Arizona Wildcats.
A Sweet 16 game in nearby Anaheim is a tantalizing prize. The Aztecs have enjoyed a virtual home court advantage at the Honda Center while winning the Wooden Legacy (née Wooden Classic) the past two seasons.
Heady hoops happenings for a city twice abandoned by the NBA. For a time, basketball reigns supreme in the 619.