HONOLULU - As much as San Diego State fans have fallen in love with Aztec basketball, they also maintain a laid-back perspective on things.
It is San Diego, after all.
So after the Aztecs lost NBA first-rounder Kawhi Leonard and three other starters from a team that won a school-record 34 games and reached the NCAA Sweet 16 two seasons ago, the pressure wasn't exactly on for an encore.
"We lost all those guys and, in what is atypical of most places, they gave us a pass before the season started," SDSU coach Steve Fisher said. "It was, 'We know we'll be just OK this year, but we'll be really good next year.' Then all of a sudden, we won 26 games last year. We were better than OK."
The Aztecs went 26-8 and earned a share of the Mountain West Conference title, again reaching the NCAA tournament, and not because they simply plugged in replacements for all the talent they had lost.
They did it because Fisher has elevated the program to where it can peel off some talent and still be successful, developing veteran guards such as Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley into standouts, and because the Aztecs may have had some mental carry-over from that 2010-11 season.
San Diego State won 10 of 13 games that were in doubt in the final minute last season, while Franklin turned into the Mountain West's player of the year.
The No. 17 Aztecs kept it going this season by winning 11 straight games heading into the Diamond Head Classic final against No. 3 Arizona tonight.
"Winning allows you to believe you're going to win when you come out again, no matter who you are," Fisher said. "Guys who did not play prime-time roles two years ago like Jamaal Franklin became one of the best players in the country. Chase Tapley, who's a four-year starter now, just kind of slides along under the radar and wins for you."
Franklin, a junior, is averaging 17.9 points, 9.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists while Tapley is averaging 15.5 points and has made 21 of his last 37 three-pointers.
The Aztecs start two seniors, two juniors and a sophomore, in what's an unusual mix of experience for today's elite teams.
"We know what we can do," Tapley said. "We all played with each other last year, then had some core guys back, some freshmen and some transfers cleared to play, and we kept it rolling."
Not surprisingly, their fans responded.
The Aztecs once again have sold out all six of their home games so far this season in 12,414-seat Viejas Arena. That's a trend that Tapley could hardly imagine as a freshman in 2009-10, when SDSU averaged just 7,227 fans per game.
"There's a pride. We think about it all the time," Tapley said. "San Diego State was an unknown. But it's because of our coaching staff.
"It's unbelievable. San Diego State basketball is almost bigger than the Chargers. It's been a great experience to see the program change."