SAN DIEGO – San Diego State will hold its annual Red & Black spring football game on Wednesday night, for a reason that has nothing to do with football.
And everything to do with basketball.
“I actually think they’re going to go further,” football coach Rocky Long said of the Aztec basketball team, which will play Arizona in a Sweet 16 matchup on Thursday. “That’s why we had practice on Monday and Wednesday, and that’s why we’re having the spring game on Wednesday instead of Saturday.”
On Saturday, the winner of Thursday’s UA-SDSU game will play for a berth in the Final Four. The Aztecs hope to be in that game.
No, actually, they intend to. SDSU has never gotten to the Final Four, not even to the Elite Eight, but basketball coach Steve Fisher said he’s confident that team history can change.
“We don’t want anybody to assume we don’t feel like we belong,” he said today, at a San Diego State news conference. “We’re going up there with the expectation that we’re good enough to win.
“We’re well aware of who we’re playing. They beat us up pretty good in the second game of the season. So we know we’re playing a really, really good team but you’re supposed to be good if you’re in the round of 16. We believe that we’re really good. I think it’ll be an exciting game.
“It’s what we all aspire to do -- get in the tournament is No. 1, then make a run when you get there and then make a deep run. We’re trying to do something we’ve never done before. Arizona is trying to do old school, what they’ve gotten used to doing.”
Arizona won 69-60 on Nov. 14 at San Diego State. It was the third of 21 straight wins to open the season. But the Aztecs also won 20 straight after that game, reaching the Top 10 of the national polls.
“If you’re playing now, you’re better than you were in November,” Fisher said. “They’re a lot better in every regard but we’re better also. Our offensive efficiency is more improved; we’re doing things more offensively to move you around and we’re going to play a guy that was, because of me, missing in action the first game, in Dwayne (Polee). Hopefully that will play a big positive role for us. He’s been sensational.”
Polee was a coach’s DNP for that game, just outside the rotation, but has now become the Aztecs’ fourth-leading scorer. Fisher humorously talked about why Polee didn’t play on Nov. 14.
“He didn’t play because someone didn’t put him in the game. Me,” Fisher said. “And now others are saying, `Why didn’t he play in the first game? And I’m saying, `Why didn’t he play him in the first game. Why?’ I don’t know how he would have played but I wished I gave him a chance to play.
“It was a coaches decision, but sometimes through the course of a season you have a rotation and sometimes it doesn’t change. Sometimes it does. Dwayne was nine in a 10-man pecking order and now he’s our sixth starter.”
Now, Arizona is 32-4 while SDSU is 31-4. Both keep opposing teams under 40-percent field goal shooting, with Arizona being the most efficient defensive team in the nation (87.2 points allowed per 100 opponent possessions) while SDSU is seventh (90.3).
“We’ve gotta stick to our defense, get out in the passing lanes, press,” SDSU guard Xavier Thames said. “They play good defense as well. They’re a great team. It’s going to be fun.”
Fisher delivered the line of the day during his press conference when discussing how Thursday’s games at the Honda Center should be a virtual red-out, between fans for SDSU, UA and Wisconsin.
“Arizona travels well,” Fisher said. “You’ve gotta lot of Zonies who come in for the racing season and get in the way. Now they’re here (for UA). They came for the tournament here and a lot of them have stayed. They are a great fan base who travels as well as anywhere in the country so there will be a lot of red in that that building . A lot of Aztec red, a lot of Arizona red and a pretty good contingency of Wisconsin red.”
While Arizona raced home after Sunday night's game, then prepared to turn around in order to be in Anaheim by midweek, the Aztecs had the day off at home on Sunday and only have to take a 90-minute bus ride up to the Honda Center.
Yet Fisher said the rest advantage for SDSU won't have any impact.
"If they were flying three times zone away to get ready... " Fisher said of the Wildcats. "They could walk home really, they're that close."
SDSU's Winston Shepard also said wouldn't make much of a difference.
"This time of the season everybody's going to be ready," Shepard said.
While San Diego State held a nearly hour-long news conference Monday at Viejas Arena, Arizona opted to keep itself off limits to media between the NCAA tournament weekends (can't remember that ever happening before but UA has had a much stricter local media policy this season and it is experiencing a short turnaround this week).
As a result, we won't have any updated comments from the Wildcats until the NCAA tournament news conferences on Wednesday. But there were some notes and links on the UA-Gonzaga postgame thread and some other links of possible interest have since popped up:
-- Sean Miller may get a chance to shed the label of being one of the best coaches never to reach a Final Four.
-- John Miller tells USA Today he's excited about Dayton's progress but senses the pressure that UA is under.
-- Archie Miller received a contract extension at Dayton.
-- UCLA was excited to reach the Sweet 16, but as Kyle Anderson noted, "They don't hang Sweet 16 banners in Pauley Pavilion."
-- Zone defense is working for the Bruins.
-- Stanford says toughness made the difference in earning its Sweet 16 trip.
-- Cal is playing Arkansas in an NIT game tonight (8 p.m., ESPN2).