Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tribute to the Aztecs...Ello, Mar. 24th

"It's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game."

Well...the above quote was probably written by some guy who lost...but, just the same, every now again there's some truth to the old saying.

Best example I can think of is the San Diego State women's basketball team, which was eliminated last night in the second round the NCAA Tournament by powerhouse Stanford, 77-49.

They surely didn't win...and they certainly did lose...but how they played the game was still something to behold.

No team I've seen in recent memory plays as hard as coach Beth Burns' Aztecs, and few play with as much heart...And though it can be difficult to please the bean counters who look only at results, there should still be room in sports to at least appreciate the effort.

One quick look at San Diego State, and then across the court at mighty Stanford, during the pregame warmups was enough to give away the game's eventual outcome...On the Aztecs side, just two players taller than 6-feet, and both slight of build...On the Stanford side, an entire team of 6-footers, and none slight of build.

How in world could San Diego State possibly win this thing? And the plain truth simply is that they couldn't....Stanford dominated the paint with its power and size so decisively that the Cardinal needed only to make one outside jump shot the entire game.

Time and again, with the ease of Jim Brown running over a high school secondary, Stanford pounded the ball inside for easy baskets...By the time it was over, the nation's No. 2-ranked team has scored 26 baskets -- and 25 of them were scored on layups.

The Cardinal's muscle-bound front line not only scored at will, but it punished San Diego State's smaller defenders so effectively that it seemed as if the entire Aztec team would foul out by halftime.

It was the men against the boys -- or in this case the women against the girls.

Nevertheless, Stanford did not march on to the Sweet 16 with complete ease...and that's because the spirit of San Diego State never waned, and the pressure provided on the perimeter by the Aztecs' athletic guards never wavered.

San Diego State scrapped and fought and battled for the entire 40 minutes...and the Aztecs' hearts never stopped beating even long after the issue had been decided.

Jene Morris, SDSU's brilliant guard who scored an NCAA Tournament-high 35 points in Saturday's dramatic first-round victory over DePaul, was relentless throughout and finished with a game-high six steals to go along with her team-high 14 points.

At just 5-feet-9 against Stanford's lineup of giants, Morris pressed the issue the entire night and drove Stanford's ball-handlers crazy...Sure, Stanford will move on but it's a pretty safe bet that the Cardinal is happy they won't have to deal with Morris any longer.

Jene's running mate in the backcourt, Quenese Davis -- also just 5-feet-9 -- played with undying energy and enthusiasm, working alongside Morris to pressure the ball for 94 feet of hardwood and forty minutes of game as well.

Coco Davis, SDSU's 5-foot-9 foward, time and again went to the hoop against Stanford's massive front line and was one of the reasons the Aztecs were able to foul-out All-American 6-foot-4 center Jayne Appel.

You don't see a lot of teams losing by nearly 30 given a standing ovation by the home crowd as its key players exit the game in the final moments...But that's what happened last night at Cox Arena.

The tribute, of course, was not about the winning and losing...but it was simply about the way they played the game.

San Diego State finished 24-and-8 and accomplished so much this season, that last night's loss could do nothing to take away from it....The Aztecs beat a ranked team (No. 4 Texas) for the first time in 14 years, won the Mountain West Conference title for the first time in 12 years, made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 12 years, and won an NCAA Tournament game for the first time in 15 years.

Afterward, the Aztecs locker room was hardly somber...that's because one gets the feeling that what was accomplished this season was just the beginning...Both guards, Morris and Davis, will be back next year for their senior seasons...All-Conference center Paris Johnson will only be a junior...and two All-Conference-type front-court power forwards, Allison Duffy and Jessica Bradley, will join them.

For now...there's just no beating a powerhouse like Stanford (unless you're top-ranked UConn, whom the Cardinal will no doubt face this year in the Final Four).

But last night was a reminder that it isn't always just about winning...and the way these Aztecs play the game, next season should be a lot of fun.

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