At the start of the NCAA Tournament, just two short weeks ago, the San Diego State Aztecs were one of the first teams mentioned in a conversation about potential first-round upsets, but four wins later, they’re still dancing.
Fifth-seeded SDSU’s trek to Houston started in Orlando with a battle against the CAA champion College of Charleston Cougars, the No. 12 seed. In a game where the Aztecs could not build more than a nine-point lead in another signature slugfest by SDSU.
Allowing just 57 points to a team that had not scored fewer than 63 points all season, the Aztecs pulled away in the second half, never relinquishing the lead en route to a 63-57 win.
As they moved on to the second round, a fired up No. 13 Furman Paladins team, led by senior guard Mike Bothwell, awaited them after a spectacular shot in the final seconds lifted them over No. 4 Virginia.
The Paladins failed to put points on the board, a very common trend among SDSU’s opponents. Furman was held to a season-low 52 points in an offensive output as the Aztecs dropped 75 points on 50% shooting from the field.
The following weekend, the Aztecs went by the old adage: “defense travels well” in their 71-64 win over No. 1 Alabama. Many thought that the Aztecs would finally meet their match after playing two double-digit seeds in the first two rounds.
San Diego State forced star freshman Brandon Miller to just 3-for-19 from the field in the game as Darrion Trammell scored 21 points in the outing. Allowing just three 3-pointers to the Crimson Tide, a team almost dependent on the deep shot, SDSU moved onto the regional final in Louisville.
In the final game of the weekend, the Creighton Bluejays awaited the stoutly Aztecs after a convincing win over Cinderella team, Princeton. Led by seven-foot center, Ryan Kalkbrenner, all five of the Bluejay starters average over 10 points per game. By contrast, just one player has that feat on the Aztecs (Matt Bradley).
In a grueling matchup with 22 fouls called between both teams, the Aztecs pulled out a 57-56 win after their trademark perimeter defense allowed just two 3-pointers to the Creighton offense.
SDSU overcame a seven-point second half deficit. The Aztecs trudged their way back into the game, finding themselves up by two with just 34 seconds remaining. A critical turnover lead to a layup by Creighton guard Baylor Scheierman to tie the score.
With just less than two seconds remaining in the game, Trammell was fouled by Bluejay Ryan Nembhard on a floater, giving the 5-foot-11-inch guard a chance to win the game for the Aztecs at the line. He made just one from the stripe, but it was enough to lift SDSU to their first ever Final Four.
SDSU’s story in the Tournament so far has been one of lockdown defense, and the ability to force teams into horrendous offensive performances. They have limited opponents to 229 total points (57.3 points per game), the fewest of the Final Four teams.
After travelling 3,290 miles over the course of the Tournament, the Aztecs have proven that defense travels no matter where you go.