Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Rare Spring Storm

SDSU's men's basketball team is heading to the Final Four of the NIT for the first time in school history.  Last night's thrilling, tense, roller-coaster 70-66 win over St. Mary's at Cox Arena gave this class of seniors every chance possible to exorcise their demons.  They faced a tough team which had beaten them twice before.  They fell into a familiar pattern, building and then squandering a large lead.  With less than two minutes to play, it was all there for the Aztecs.  Take care of business on your home court, rise up for this moment, and you will be rewarded with a trip to New York City.

And they took care of business.  With a clutch basket from Tim Shelton, one of the few returners for next year.  With (finally) a clutch free throw from their senior point guard Richie Williams, after he missed a couple of big ones.  With, as always, tough defense, athleticism, and the ability to contest shots and force turnovers.  

The moment was one of pure release, as the final shot for St. Mary's clanked away, and the final second ticked off the clock.  And then, a scene of pure release, as the student section and fans stormed the court to bounce and celebrate with their players.

Hey, I love this stuff.  In our city, are you kidding me?  What do we ever have to celebrate, especially in college sports?  Double-extra especially in San Diego State sports?!?!?  When I came to this town in 1990, SDSU had a marginal football team with some good offense and a maddening tendency to come close but not win big games.  The basketball team was an embarrasment, and after 1991, the baseball team never sniffed a regional again.  

Not much changed over the next decade, except the football team got worse.  Gateway games, the real wins that could lift a school and a program, all ended up the same way.  Either an embarrassing rout or the ever more painful close-but-no-cigar-loss.  In 1999, Steve Fisher arrived to take over the basketball team, long removed from the Fab Five, now an assistant coach with the NBA Sacramento Kings.  In his first season, the Aztecs went winless in conference play.

This senior class has posted the most wins of any group in school history.  But their legacy was going to be a mixed one, with suspensions and late letdowns marking the path as much as any success.  Honestly, they had never won anything without Brandon Heath, no conference titles, no postseason success.  Now, in addition to a 26-win (and counting) season, the class of Lorrenzo Wade, Kyle Spain, Richie Williams, Ryan Amoroso, Matt Thomas and Kelvin Davis (who may return next year as a medical redshirt) has an indelible moment in Aztecs history, a visceral memory which they will keep for their entire lives.  

You don't hang a banner for a NIT-Final Four appearance, but if you're us, if you're a San Diego State fan, you do storm the court.  It may look silly from the outside, like a bunch of rubes who can't act like they've been there before.  Guilty as charged.  We haven't.  But now, we have this.  And it's pretty good.

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