Monday, March 16, 2009

All About the Aztecs...March 17

The question, as far as I'm concerned is, how do Lorrenzo Wade, Richie Williams and Kyle Spain want to be remembed?

Throughout this season, the trio -- along with center Ryan Amoroso and backup guard Matt Thomas -- have been referred to on many occasions as the best Senior class in San Diego State basketball history.

The references, I'm sure, are flattering...but at this point in time, they are far from accurate. I mean, let's take a look at what they've accomplished: as freshmen, they rode the coat tails of Marcus Slaughter and Brandon Heath to a Mountain West Conference title -- then immediately were ridden out of the NCAA Tournament by sophomores, again it was Heath who led them, this time to the NIT where a magical shot by the sharp-shooting guard at least earned them one victory, over Southwest juniors, they again fell short of the big dance and hardly even looked the part of a postseason team, rolling over in favor of Florida. Spain, in fact, wasn't even around for the disasterous conclusion, having been suspended from the team for a second time.

Wade joined Spain on the police blotter prior to the start of this season, and Williams has been in trouble off the court as well during his career....So, back to the beginning: just how do they want to be remembered? What happens in the NIT, which begins tonight when the Aztecs host Weber State (7 p.m., Cox Arena), will go a long way towards defining their legacy.

To me -- as it stands now -- Wade, Williams and Spain are nothing more than an example of great talent frittered away. Sure they've won a bunch of games, and there have been some awards sprinkled in. Sure they've helped elevate SDSU basketball to the level of yearly contender (something that Aztec fans could only have dreamed of a decade ago).

But when the chips have all been on the table...when that one victory was needed to push the program over the top...the trio of stars have simply come up short.

How can this possibly be called the greatest Senior class in Aztec history without a single marquis victory anywhere on its resume'?...What I remember about this group is that it didn't even bother to show up last year against Florida....What I remember is that had it won any of its three important non-conference games this season (all losses to Arizona St., Arizona and St. Mary's), it would have made it to the NCAA Tournament...I remember a 14-point second-half lead blown against BYU, a loss that ultimately cost them a share of the Mountain West title and a No. 1-seed in the conference tournament.

Ultimately I remember Saturday afternoon when -- presented with one last chance at the Big Dance -- they rendered dramatic victories over UNLV and BYU useless by stinking up the joint worse than Utah did and losing the MWC Championship Game.

Honestly I'd rather remember Wade, Williams and Spain differently...The three of them have provided some spectacular moments...and perhaps they can provide a few more.

Yes, the NIT isn't the NCAA's...but once again a chance has been presented...a door has been opportunity has been offered...Beat Weber State, beat either Kansas State or Illinois State in the second round, and get revenge on (probably) St. Mary's in the quarterfinals.

End your careers in Madison Square Garden playing in the NIT semifinals (or even the finals)...Those are the memories I'd rather have.

Meanwhile, the San Diego State women's team -- to me anyway -- has become the polar opposite of the men's team...Beth Burns' squad has not just met expectations, but they have easily surpassed them.

And their reward was a Monday celebration in their Cox Arena locker room when they watched together on television and received news of their NCAA Tournament berth.

To really understand what this accomplishment meant, one needs only to go back three seasons, when SDSU won only three games total and finished an imperfect 0-and-16 in conference play. Change, of course, was needed...and it started with the signing of point guard Quenese Davis and the transfer from Cal to SDSU of athletic two-guard Jene Morris.

Two-time San Diego County Player of the Year center Paris Johnson (from San Diego High) joined the following year as did All-CIF power forward Allison Duffy (from El Capitan High).

Young and precocious, the kids took their lumps for two seasons, but steadily grew together...They made their first mark in last year's conference tournament, upsetting a pair of NCAA teams, Wyoming and TCU, before losing the MWC final to New Mexico.

This year, they shook off a season-ending suspension to Duffy (who is expected back next year) and became champions. They tied for the conference title with a 13-3 mark, and went 23-7 overall...Morris and Johnson were named first-team all-MWC, and Morris was named the conference's defensive player of the year...Davis earned second-team all-MWC honors and became the school's all-time leader in assists...Burns was named Coach of the Year (tends to happen when your team improves by 19 wins over a short three-year span).

Now they'll face 7th-seeded De Paul in the first round of the NCAA's on Saturday at 5 p.m. at Cox Arena...Can they beat the Blue Demons? They absolutely can, if for no other reason than the fact that they went 14-and-0 at home this season (including a win over No. 4-ranked Texas).

After that...they'd almost assuredly meet Pac-10 champ Stanford in the second round...Stanford was the NCAA runner-up last season (beating UConn in the National Semifinals), and they're ranked No. 2 in the country this season....No chance, you say? Well...just keep in mind that the second-round game would be played at Cox as well.

One last note about the women...regardless of what happens this season, this group is still a year ahead of schedule...Next year, Davis and Morris will both be seniors...Johnson and Duffy will be juniors...and Jessica Bradley, an all-Big 12 conference transfer from Baylor, will join the ranks.

The future is even brighter.

Another fantastic performance by the Aztecs' All-American pitcher Stephen Strasburg last Friday, kicking off a three-game weekend sweep by Tony Gwynn's team of UNLV. (By the way, SDSU owns UNLV in everything this year. Football got one of its two wins over the Rebels, both the men's and women's basketball teams were 3-0 vs. Vegas, and now baseball beats 'em three-straight).

But the best pitching performance of the weekend was not turned in by Strasburg, but rather by UCSD senior right-hander Travis Decker, who pitched a no-hitter on Saturday and defeated top-ranked Cal State Stanislaus, 6-0...Decker walked the first two hitters of the game, then retired 20 batters in a row to complete the seven-inning jem.

Decker's effort was the centerpiece of a four-game UCSD sweep of Division II's top-ranked squad and improved the Tritons to 15-7....Nicely done!


  1. I have to disagree with your assesment of the Aztec men's basketball program. I agree they have not beaten anyone on the court. What they did do was elevate the bottom level of the program. Four consecutive 20 win seasons in a very tough conference is an accomplishment. They have set a standard of a consistent winning tradition. The men's program has never done this before. Has it taken longer than expected, yes. Has Fisher taken chances on guys, yes. He had to. He reached for players no one wanted because he needed talent in the worst way. This year's team has a chance to do something in the post season. With this opportunity comes experience for the younger players on the team. The future is very bright with a huge recruiting class coming in and with the transfers that will be available in next season, I am excited and will continue to be excited.

  2. I actually agree with parts of both of you. Let me try to break it down into separate parts:

    Eric, I agree with you that the level of the program has moved up, and a consistent tradition of winning, 20-win seasons, and postseason (NIT) appearances has been established. For this I give credit to FISHER, and yeah, he took chances but he also policed his own camp.

    But I'm with Chris on the senior class specifically. What do they have to hang their hats on? What can they say they did on campus, save a win-loss record? I'm thinking of it from their perspective. They want to be able to point to their tangible accomplishment. Getting to New York would be something. Winning the NIT would be something. Winning the MWC would have been something. They didn't get it done.

    Richie got suspended during his time on the team. So did Kyle. So did 'Zo. All three missed games which the team lost, games which could have helped them each year in a bid for the NCAAs. Sad facts. Beating Utah Sunday would have given them a permanent positive on their side of the ledger. Didn't happen, and the reason it didn't was because, for the umpteenth time in the Wade-Spain-Williams Era, they couldn't create a good shot for minutes on end. I think these guys have a lot to prove.