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Thursday, December 9, 2010
Best in Cali: SDSU rolls through Berkeley

By Diamond Leung



BERKELEY, Calif. -- So after thrashing California on the road, San Diego State has a clear path to a 15-0 start heading into Mountain West play.

Right, Steve Fisher?

“That’s unfair to be asked,” said the Aztecs coach, whose team is 9-0 after enduring the toughest part of its nonconference schedule. “Enjoy the last win.”

Your thoughts on the soon-to-be 15-0 record, team captain D.J. Gay?

“I wouldn’t say that just yet,” he said with a smile.

San Diego State's Steve Fisher
Steve Fisher and his San Diego State Aztecs have a perfect 9-0 record after winning at Cal by 20.
San Diego State’s swagger on the court is unprecedented, as thus far every single attempted attack on it has been successfully parried. But the Aztecs appear dead-set on living in the moment rather than looking too far ahead to what could very well end up a dream season.

The latest résumé-builder for the Aztecs was a trouncing of a young but dangerous Cal team that saw them turn a two-point halftime advantage into a 77-57 rout on Wednesday night.

San Diego State is not only off to the best start in school history, but has gotten battle-tested along the way.

Beating Gonzaga on the road was a program-changing event. Surviving Green Bay away from home despite trailing by 22 points showed the Aztecs could take a punch. Now wins against possible NCAA tournament teams Saint Mary’s and Wichita State, followed by the snapping of a 20-game road losing streak against Pac-10 schools, means it could be smooth sailing for a while.

The possibility of a top-10 national ranking and beginning the new year undefeated has the city alive with excitement over a program that is still in search of its first NCAA tournament win.

“Our town probably is a bit unrealistic,” Fisher said. “They think we can probably play the Celtics.”

And to calm things down, the veteran coach has been telling his team that despite the hype, he thinks after watching UNLV play on television that the Rebels are the best in the Mountain West.

Did he make that declaration to light a fire under the preseason favorites?

Quite possibly, and against Cal, San Diego State showed that it’s able to turn on the jets at any time.

Despite a sluggish first half and Kawhi Leonard and Billy White sitting with foul trouble, the Aztecs shot 70 percent after the break.

“It was a little dicey, but they’re players that have been there,” Fisher said of a team that returned all five starters this season.

Leonard scored 20 points, showing off his versatile game to NBA scouts in attendance by scoring inside and from beyond the arc. Gay and James Rahon combined to score 29 points and hit seven 3-pointers. The Aztecs’ transition game appeared unstoppable at times with White getting his share of dunks.

Defensively, California's talented freshman wings, Gary Franklin and Allen Crabbe, were held to two field goals and six points combined.

“They’re fast, they run, they have great length,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. “They put a lot of pressure on us.”

The onus is now on SDSU to avoid any letdowns against its underdog opponents heading into January. Before traveling to TCU for the league opener, the Aztecs have six home games in which they'll be an overwhelming favorites: San Diego, Cal Poly, UC Santa Barbara, San Francisco, IUPUI and Occidental.

So should this team be 15-0 heading into Mountain West play? Absolutely.

But according to Fisher, tuning out the hoopla and the overly excited San Diegans in their midst is important, too.

“I told our kids, ‘Don’t buy into that.’” he said. “The journey’s the next game.”