College Basketball Nation: Billy White

SDSU loses Kawhi Leonard and his recruiter

April, 15, 2011
4/15/11
1:40
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Kawhi Leonard was a game-changing player in so many ways for San Diego State.

The 6-foot-7 forward averaged a double-double over the course of his two-year Aztecs career and this season helped lead them to an unprecedented Sweet 16 appearance.

Leonard's success also sent a message to future generations of recruits that you can win at San Diego State and achieve your NBA dreams as well. That wasn't nearly as apparent when years ago, the former California Mr. Basketball spurned late advances from larger schools in favor of the Aztecs.

Leonard leaving school for the NBA draft was an expected move that will hurt the Aztecs in the short term as they will be missing four starters from this year's team, including seniors D.J. Gay, Malcolm Thomas and Billy White.

And it will also hurt that Steve Fisher has lost the assistant coach who recruited Leonard to the school. Justin Hutson, the team's recruiting coordinator, has been hired as the associate head coach at Mountain West Conference rival UNLV, giving new Rebels coach Dave Rice a key piece.

"Justin Hutson is as good of a recruiter as there is on the West Coast," Rice told reporters.

San Diego State might not be preseason favorites in the Mountain West, but the program should have enough for a legitimate defense of their regular-season title. The Aztecs return a top defender in Chase Tapley along with sharpshooter James Rahon. They have an emerging guard in Jamaal Franklin and also add potential impact transfers in guard Xavier Thames and forward Kevin Young. Brian Carlwell, the team's 6-foot-11 center, could be back if the senior pursues a medical redshirt.

Leonard's presence boosted the program's profile and raised expectations. It now falls upon a new crop of players to continue what was started, and the lifelong Aztec will be watching.

"I will follow every San Diego State basketball game," Leonard said in a statement. "I will stay in touch with all of the players and coaches and look forward to following their future successes."

Aztecs hurting, but have left a legacy

March, 24, 2011
3/24/11
11:19
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ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Moments after the best season in San Diego State history, coach Steve Fisher offered his team words of consolation.

“The last thing I will say that I said to our team is give one another a hard hug and tell them how much you love them, and don't be ashamed to cry. Don't be ashamed to shed a tear,” Fisher said.

“You've done so much for San Diego State, the community, and for yourselves that when we reflect back on it, all of us will know that, the legacy that you've established.”

[+] EnlargeSan Diego State
AP Photo/Jae C. HongThe 2010-11 Aztecs took San Diego State to heights it had not seen, but were still disappointed with a loss to UConn.
There will be plenty of what-ifs when the Aztecs ultimately think back to their 74-67 loss to Connecticut in the Sweet 16. What if Kawhi Leonard and Jamaal Franklin hadn’t been whistled for technical fouls? What if the Aztecs hadn’t missed more than half of their free throws? What if Kemba Walker was actually stoppable on Thursday?

But immediately after the game, what the Aztecs did not lose was their perspective.

“We went from nobody even knowing about San Diego State,” senior Billy White said. “Everyone knew it as a party school.”

San Diego State showed the nation that it could indeed dance. The Aztecs knocked off Northern Colorado and Temple to set up this game about an hour-and-a-half from campus in front of their fans and against one of the blue bloods.

They simply couldn’t stop Walker, who went against three different defenders one-on-one and still scored 36 points.

“He made some tough shots on us,” White said. “He’s fearless.”

Said Chase Tapley: “He was feeling it. He’s just a great player.”

San Diego State didn’t do itself any favors either. Leonard was called for a technical in the first half that sent him to the bench with his second personal foul. He had exchanged words with a UConn player. “My comment (to the official) was, ‘At this level and this stage, could you not say something to them,’” Fisher said.

With 9:19 left and San Diego State hanging onto a four-point lead, Franklin was T’d up for bumping into Walker, who fell to the floor and then hit the two free throws. “I don’t know how hard he was hit,” San Diego State senior point guard D.J. Gay said.

Walker would take over the game, but the Aztecs did have one final chance. With San Diego State trailing by a point, Leonard had an open look at a 3-pointer, but missed it with 2:13 left. On the other end of the court, Jeremy Lamb hit a back-breaking 3.

“It should hurt, regardless of when, where and how,” Fisher said. “For our team this year, for what they've accomplished, it hurts exponentially more.”

Said Gay, who scored 16 second-half points in his last hurrah: “We didn’t want it to come to an end.”

Rapid Reaction: UConn 74, San Diego St. 67

March, 24, 2011
3/24/11
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ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Connecticut’s Kemba Walker tied a school tourney record with 36 points, willing the Huskies to a 74-67 win against No. 2 seed San Diego State that sends them to the Elite Eight. Freshman Jeremy Lamb added 24 points, tying a career high. San Diego State got 16 second-half points from D.J. Gay after he was shut out in the first half. Kawhi Leonard had 12 points and nine rebounds and Malcolm Thomas had 13 points and eight boards, but it wasn’t enough. The Aztecs played in front of a hometown-type crowd, but Walker stole the show and couldn’t be denied. After averaging 30 points in a 5-0 UConn run through the Big East tournament, he's averaging 29 in three NCAA tourney wins.

Turning point: Lamb hit a 3-pointer with 1:39 to play that put Connecticut up 68-64, capitalizing on a second-chance opportunity after Walker’s miss. The shot gave the Huskies breathing room and sufficiently responded to a Gay 3-pointer that had cut the lead to a point.

Key player: Walker was masterful, going 12-for-25 from the field. There was little San Diego State could do to stop him. The Aztecs put Chase Tapley, Billy White and Jamaal Franklin on him, and Walker still managed to take over the game. He hit step-back shots, ran off screens well for open looks and at times seemingly went against the entire defense on his own. He was 4-for-8 from beyond the arc and UConn also shot 50 percent (8-16) as a team.

Key stat: Lamb was 9-for-11 from the field, providing the Huskies with a much-needed second option to Walker. He had two dunks in the final minute to help seal the game, one coming after he stole the ball on a pass from Gay.

Miscellaneous: It didn’t help San Diego State that it picked up two technical fouls. Leonard was whistled for one in the first half that gave him a second personal foul. In the second half, Franklin made contact with Walker after a timeout, and was called for one as well. The Aztecs would later get into foul trouble as Leonard played with four fouls for the final 7:25.

What’s next: UConn, after its first-ever Sweet 16 win over a higher-seeded team, moves on to play the winner of tonight’s Arizona-Duke game for a chance to go to the Final Four for the fourth time.

Sweet 16 preview: UConn vs. San Diego St.

March, 24, 2011
3/24/11
8:00
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ANAHEIM, Calif. -- A look at the Aztecs-Huskies matchup here at the Honda Center:

No. 3 seed Connecticut (28-9) vs. No. 2 seed San Diego State (34-2), 7:15 p.m. ET (CBS)

How they got here: San Diego State needed double overtime to outlast Temple and get to the Sweet 16. Just as they have throughout the season, the Aztecs survived that challenge and made plays down the stretch to earn their second NCAA tournament win in school history. Connecticut knocked off Big East opponent Cincinnati to reach the Sweet 16. The Huskies showed little rust having cruised past Bucknell as well, following a stretch during which they won five games in five days to win the Big East tournament title.

Storyline: San Diego State’s magical run continues on, with the Aztecs having only lost to one team all season -- Brigham Young. This time it’s not Jimmer Fredette standing in their way, but UConn’s Kemba Walker.

Connecticut has the pedigree and the tradition and San Diego State does not, but the Huskies don’t mind considering themselves underdogs since the Aztecs are the No. 2 seed. “I think we’re the underdog,” UConn forward Alex Oriakhi said. “We kind of like being the underdog.”

The Aztecs get to play in Southern California about an hour-and-a-half drive from campus, so look for them to have an advantage when it comes to the crowd. But coming from the Big East, Walker doesn’t think that will be much of a negative impact for the Huskies.

“We’ve been in some tough places this season,” he said. “We pulled some big wins out on the road. We’ll be fine.”

Players to watch: Walker has had a national player of the year-caliber season, averaging 23.6 point per game, and San Diego State will have to slow him down in order to improve its chances. Walker is a different type of player than Fredette, the BYU star who the Aztecs have had trouble handling on the perimeter, but the challenge is just as great.

“You’ve got to keep him off the line,” SDSU coach Steve Fisher said. “He know how to draw fouls. He’s lightning quick with the ball. We’ve got to keep him on the outside, challenge his perimeter shot, minimize the number of throws and layups he gets. It’s easy to say, hard to do.”

For San Diego State, forward Billy White is playing his best basketball, as he has notched double-doubles in his previous three games. The Aztecs would like to get point guard D.J. Gay's shot going after struggling in the NCAA tournament thus far.

But UConn will be focused on stopping Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State’s double-double machine who leads the team in scoring and rebounding.

“He’s a multi-dimensional forward who can do so many things,” Huskies coach Jim Calhoun said. “He’s a lottery selection in my opinion. He’s a matchup problem from Day 1.”

What to look for: Asked how he would guard himself, Leonard obliged and said, “Play the best defense, and hope I miss.” That might go double for Walker and how the Aztecs plan to try to slow him down.

“Kemba gets to the basket at will, and his mid-range game is close to perfect,” Gay said.

Gay will likely get the first crack at Walker. But just as Fredette faced multiple defenders, expect to see White try to stop one of college basketball’s biggest shot-makers.

The Aztecs do appear to have an advantage inside with their strong frontline of Leonard, White and Malcolm Thomas. Still, Walker thinks his team has the players to match the Aztecs inside.

“If Alex and the other bigs do a great job containing those guys on the rebounding," he said of the 6-foot-9 Oriakhi, "then I think we’ll be fine."

Aztecs win ugly over Owls in 2OT

March, 19, 2011
3/19/11
10:34
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TUCSON, Ariz. -- Double-overtime isn't always about great basketball. Winning isn't always pretty. In terms of basketball that often made you want to scratch your eyes out, San Diego State and Temple put on quite a show.

But a "W" is the ultimate measure every time, even more so when not getting it means the season is over. The greatest season in the history of San Diego State basketball is not over after a 71-64 victory that required two extra frames to decide. And Temple's season is. Neither obsessed about aesthetics afterward.

Aztecs coach Steve Fisher began his post-game chat with reporters with a sympathetic message to Temple and its coach -- and his good buddy -- Fran Dunphy: "When you play a game like this and lose, it's so disastrous for awhile mentally that you can't comprehend it unless you are there."

And then he admitted it wasn't "perfect basketball," seeing the teams combine for 41 points in the second half, with both teams shooting under 35 percent from the field. Then he cut to the chase.

[+] EnlargeBilly White
Jennifer Stewart/US PresswireBilly White stepped up for the Aztecs by notching 16 points and 13 rebounds in SDSU's win over Temple.
"We've got a good team. We find different ways to win," he said. "We did that again tonight. And collectively we've won 34 games. So we feel we belong."

San Diego State had the final shot in regulation and in the first overtime, but couldn't convert on neither. Free throw shooting and defense made the difference the the second OT. Kawhi Leonard, who struggled offensively much of the game, made four free throws, grabbed a steal and made the ensuing dunk that sealed the deal. Malcolm Thomas and Billy White both blocked Temple shots in the final minute, with Thomas' block of Lavoy Allen perhaps being the play of the game.

When the final buzzer sounded, sheer exhaustion muted the Aztecs celebration. Chase Tapley, one of four Aztecs who scored in double figures, collapsed to the floor.

"It was just a great game to remember for a memory," Tapley said. "I just had to sit on the floor. I was exhausted. Just playing my heart out."

That goes for both teams.

San Diego State took an 11-point lead in the first half and looked to be establishing the fast pace it wanted. At halftime, when it led 36-31, the Aztecs had a 12-0 advantage in fastbreak points.

But Temple adjusted during halftime, and it controlled the tempo thereafter. San Diego State scored just 18 points after the break, frustrated as Temple mixed in some zone defenses.

"I thought they were a little comfortable in running their man offense," Dunphy said. "They were doing a good job on their high ball screens and we let [point guard D.J.] Gay get into the gaps a little too easy a couple times. So we said let's throw some zone at them and see how they react."

Said Fisher: "Temple did a good job of controlling tempo. That's what they've done all season. They made us guard. They made us guard for long stretches."

Still, the Aztecs looked to be in good shape when they took a seven-point lead at 52-45 with 7:18 left. They scored just one more bucket the rest of the way, though, as the Owls forced the first OT.

In the first overtime, Temple, with a 59-57 lead, watched as Leonard missed the second of two free throws. But Rahlir Jefferson was called for a lane violation. Suffice it to say, Temple fans will be talking about that call.

"I don't really know what I could say," Dunphy said. "Could they have let it go? Yeah. But that's the way it worked. We had to live with it."

Gay admitted that the Aztecs were "out of whack" at times during the game. But he noted, they are advancing to the Sweet 16 and "at the end of the day we came out with the win."

However, when a reporter tried to see poetry in the way San Diego State won -- calling it a team of destiny -- Gay balked.

"I don't think I'm throwing around 'destiny' just yet," he said. "It's kind of like, you know, hard work is paying off. You know, a team -- fruit of its labor."

It was laborious, yes, but it was a win. That is the only reward that matters in the NCAA tournament.

TUCSON, Ariz. -- San Diego State's 71-64 victory over Temple in double-overtime was equal parts thriller and ugly. But here's a guess that the Aztecs will take it.

Turning point: San Diego State took a 7-point lead at 52-45 with 7:18 left. The Aztecs would score only one more basket in regulation, and Temple tied the game at 54-54 on a hook shot from Lavoy Allen to force the first overtime. The turning point in the second overtime? Temple got two looks to tie the game at 65, but Khalif Wyatt and Allen both missed. Billy White then made a fadeaway jump shot on the other end, and the Aztecs had a little breathing room with two minutes left. The Owls scored just one more point.

Key player: With Kawhi Leonard struggling, White stepped up again by scoring 16 points and pulling down 13 rebounds.

Key stat: Leonard was just 5-of-14 from the field, but he connected on all six of his free throws, including four in the second overtime.

Miscellaneous: Both teams couldn't score in the second half after shooting well in the first. Temple hit 33.3 percent of its shots, while the Aztecs managed only 34.6 percent. ... The Aztecs had a 12-0 advantage in fast break points at halftime, but Temple had a 7-4 advantage in the second half.

What's next: San Diego State plays the winner of the Connecticut-Cincinnati game in the Sweet 16 on Thursday in Anaheim.

San Diego State gets a third shot at Jimmer

March, 12, 2011
3/12/11
5:00
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The ending to the trilogy is about to be written, and San Diego State has to be wondering right now what BYU's Jimmer Fredette has planned for the Mountain West Conference championship game.

All Fredette did last night was add to his legend and put on a show for the NCAA tournament selection committee, scoring 52 points on 22-of-37 shooting. And to achieve his career high against New Mexico, he had 33 at the half and only shot from the free-throw line once the entire game.

"What the selection committee decides, if they watch this game, I think they still have a pretty good feeling about this team's ability to win games," BYU coach Dave Rose said afterward.

The performance topped last season's 49-point outburst against Arizona when Fredette afterward conceded it would have been nice to get 50. Mission accomplished, and it came less than 24 hours before BYU-San Diego State, Part III.

"San Diego State, we know all about them," said Fredette, who hung 43 and 25 points on the Aztecs in the Cougars' two regular-season wins. "Very athletic. Very athletic."

Said San Diego State forward Billy White: "He's just amazing. It's just impossible to stop him. You only can contain him. We're just going to try to go back to our game plan and see what we did wrong."

BYU gave San Diego State a big dose of Fredette at home and then showcased its other talented players on the road, but now don't have Brandon Davies to help combat a strong Aztecs frontcourt.

Can Fredette continue to will the team to wins by himself? Probably not against San Diego State, but the Aztecs will have to do at least a decent job of holding him down on offense. It's not a maybe, but a must.

San Diego State got another game-winning shot out of D.J. Gay last night against UNLV, and he'll have plenty of help against Fredette after struggling to stick to him in that first matchup at the Marriott Center. White, a top defender, is one of the Aztecs' other options.

Is it "impossible" to stop Fredette, as he says? Possibly, as evidenced by the 52-point performance, but it's also important for the Aztecs not to get caught up in that. They've already had a historic season, and their belief that they can get it done has carried them all year.

BYU makes statement, topples SDSU

February, 26, 2011
2/26/11
4:33
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SAN DIEGO -- BYU made sure the selection committee, the voters and the casual fan knows this team is more than capable of going on a deep run in March.

[+] EnlargeJimmer Fredette
AP Photo/Lenny IgnelziBYU guard Jimmer Fredette battles San Diego State's Chase Tapley while driving to the basket in the second half.
And maybe the Cougars should start that run as a No. 1 seed.

BYU beat SDSU 80-67 Saturday at a rocking Viejas Arena for a season sweep of the series, setting itself up for a Mountain West title with two games remaining.

In their last game in San Diego as a member of the MWC before going to the West Coast Conference next season, the Cougars dominated the second half to pull away. The difference? Brigham Young finished 14-of-24 from 3 for the game. You're not going to lose many games shooting that percentage from beyond the arc.

Now BYU has a real chance to be a top seed in the NCAA tournament if it wins the MWC tourney in Las Vegas in two weeks.

As for SDSU, its only two losses this season are to BYU. San Diego State is still in contention for a No. 2 seed. The Aztecs have now lost four straight to BYU, including two in a row at home.

Meanwhile, Jimmer Fredette remains the front-runner for national player of the year as he scored in a variety of ways, finishing with 25 points. But his best contribution came with setting up his teammates for 3s.

Other quick thoughts from the game:

Three cheers for Aztec faithful: San Diego State found a way to wake up a dormant program. The energy inside Viejas Arena was tremendous. Students showed creativity with their costumes and missionary attire. The crowd was jumping throughout the game and during timeouts. I never thought I'd see this here. They have made SDSU a happening place.

The Jimmer Report: Fredette had his usual offering of deep 3s, got to the hole, and while he was off at times and got harassed on the ball, he found ways to help his team by setting up others for deep looks like Jackson Emery. Fredette did have four turnovers, but tied a season-high with nine assists.

BYU is no one-man team: The Cougars did a solid job collapsing inside on the Aztecs in the post, and their defense overall was solid. They did get burned by 3s and fast break run-outs, but the half-court defense was better than advertised.

If BYU is to go deep in the tourney …: Then Emery (13 points) and Charles Abouo (18 points) will have to make shots like they did Saturday. Brandon Davies and Noah Hartsock are so undervalued when discussing this team; both bigs can run and finish. Hartsock missed just one shot against the Aztecs (3-of-4 from 3, 6-of-7 overall).

Unsung hero: The honor goes to Abouo. He continued to make some key 3s to offset any runs by SDSU in the second half.

San Diego State verdict: Kawhi Leonard, Billy White and D.J. Gay just weren't consistent enough. There were flashes from them but never enough consistent production. The contributions from Brian Carlwell inside and Chase Tapley and James Rahon outside helped, but Malcolm Thomas missed too many shots close to the basket.

San Diego State as good as advertised

February, 9, 2011
2/09/11
12:58
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SAN DIEGO -- The play-by-play couldn’t do it justice.

In the bland vernacular of the stat sheet, it read simply:

Good layup by Gay, D.J.

Miss jumper by Clyburn, Will.

Block by Carlwell, Brian.

Rebound defensive by White, Billy.

Good layup by White, Billy.

In reality, it was wow, oh my, dear Lord, a 12-second offense-to-defense-to-offense assault that left the San Diego State home crowd agog and summarized what the Aztecs are all about.

For the doubters who still believe San Diego State is merely a top-5 team by default, we present Gay to Carlwell to White as your basketball version of Tinkers to Evers to Chance.

BYU may have The Jimmer but the Aztecs have The Team, a roster as complete and built for a long run as any in the country.

Yes the opponent, er victim, of this particular 85-53 assault was Utah, a team in which maybe two guys are old enough to shave (there are 10 freshmen and sophomores on the roster). That, however, doesn’t mean what we saw wasn’t real.

San Diego State is real.

The Aztecs were without starter Chase Tapley (ankle) and sub Tim Shelton (foot) and still played with a fluidity and ease, dishing and dunking like a collegiate version of the Globetrotters.

“That was good, really good,’’ SDSU coach Steve Fisher said. “We were dictating the pace, flow, getting runouts and dunks, making 3-pointers. We were very good. We can’t play that way all the time, but we’re good enough to have stretches like that.’’

We have come to the portion of the schedule in which we start to look for a team’s Achilles' heel, to discover the weakness that will render them weak come NCAA tournament time.

Still searching for that weakness here in Southern California.

In Gay, the Aztecs have a dynamic and contentedly unselfish point guard. White and Malcolm Thomas, with Carlwell off the bench, own the inside and the boards.

James Rahon can’t be left alone behind the arc and Kawhi Leonard is the one ingredient virtually every Final Four team has had of late -- a future NBA lottery pick.

And then there’s the added bonus that this team is built on defense, and actually likes it, in fact. SDSU ranks 11th in the nation in scoring defense and 16th in field-goal percentage defense. In its past six games, the Aztecs are allowing a ridiculously stingy 55 points per game.

Five less and San Diego State would be indulging in curly fry overload.

The student section is awarded free curly fries whenever the Aztecs hold an opponent under 50 points.

“I said, ‘We can’t let them get seven points in seven minutes,’’ Carlwell said. “We have to get them the curly fries. We’ve had games where we held them to 53 and I get home and my boys call me and they’re mad. Unfortunately we couldn’t make it happen this time.’’

The fast-food decadence award might be the only place the Aztecs failed on this night.

Fredette, Cougars hand SDSU its first loss

January, 27, 2011
1/27/11
2:40
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PROVO, Utah -- With the game in hand in the final minute, the crowd in the Marriott Center chanted in unison, “You got Jimmered!”

Jimmer Fredette promptly buried a floater in the lane before checking out – an appropriate exit for a player who scored 43 points and left to the sound of more cheers with the ninth-ranked Cougars cruising to a 71-58 win against No. 4 San Diego State on Wednesday. In a game between two top-10 teams that seemed to double as a rock concert, students stormed the court with the historic 20-game winning streak of the previously unbeaten Aztecs having ended and the idol himself still lingering in their midst.

After Fredette finished with a television interview, fans pressed up against his exit route along the press tables and reached out to touch him.

“It was kind of scary,” Fredette said with a laugh.

Think of how the rest of the Mountain West feels after Fredette tore San Diego State apart with an offensive showcase not seen since, well, last week. He topped 40 points for the third time in four games to boost not only his national player of the year candidacy, but also the Cougars into first place in the Mountain West.

[+] EnlargeBYU's Jimmer Fredette
Douglas C. Pizac/US PRESSWIREBYU's Jimmer Fredette made 14 of 24 shots from the field for 43 points in a win over No. 4 San Diego State.
Like San Diego State, BYU is now 20-1 after Fredette went 14-for-24 from the field, scoring on hard-nosed drives to the basket, jump shots off his crossover, and the occasional shot from beyond the arc that’s nothing more than a prayer for everyone else.

“You be aggressive, you play your game,” Fredette said. “I wanted to be aggressive right from the get-go.”

Fredette poured in BYU’s final 15 points of the first half, but also needed help as the Aztecs led by a point at halftime.

He got it from the tough play of 6-foot-9 forward Brandon Davies, who scored 14 points and helped double the post. James Anderson came off the bench with five blocks, helping bother San Diego State’s vaunted frontcourt and contain Malcolm Thomas (4-for-11, 10 points) and Billy White (3-for-9, six points).

Kawhi Leonard had 22 points and 15 rebounds, but was feeling the effects of flu-like symptoms and given two bags of IV before the game.

Even though it came before a hostile sellout crowd of 22,700, the loss stung San Diego State, which shot only 35 percent from the field and had the nation’s longest winning streak stopped cold. The Aztecs grabbed 18 offensive rebounds, but couldn't capitalize.

“We’re bitterly disappointed,” San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said. “It’s been 10 months, two weeks since we’ve had that feeling [of losing].”

Fredette, whose brother T.J. fired up the crowd before the game with a Jimmer-inspired rap song entitled “Amazing,” simply wouldn’t let BYU lose.

And the crowd noise was deafening to the point that Fredette couldn’t help but hear the “You got Jimmered” bit.

“It was a funny chant,” Fredette said. “I guess they turned it into a verb … an action verb.”

He said his goal wasn’t to put up 40 and that while it’s a big win, it’s still simply a regular-season win for BYU, which still has to play at San Diego State in four weeks.

All true, but after a virtuoso performance that BYU will not soon forget, one thing could not be denied…

On this night at least, the San Diego State Aztecs were Jimmered.

Rapid Reaction: BYU 71, SDSU 58

January, 27, 2011
1/27/11
12:31
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PROVO, Utah -- A few quick thoughts after BYU pulled away from San Diego State for a 71-58 win to take first place in the Mountain West.
  • Jimmer Fredette lived up to the hype. Considering the build-up to this game, it wasn't easy to do, but he did it. He scored 43 points off the dribble, on seemingly impossible 3-pointers and whenever he wanted. Finishing 14-of-24 from the field, Fredette was mobbed after the game as students stormed the court. He needed an officer to escort him off of it.
  • Kawhi Leonard played very well under the circumstances, as he was under the weather, vomited twice before the game and received an IV. He started, but appeared tired at times. Still, he had a Leonard-like night with 22 points and 15 rebounds. The six turnovers hurt, but the Aztecs forward should go home with his head held high.
  • BYU's Brandon Davies needed to have a nice game to help Fredette carry the load, and the 6-foot-9 sophomore came through. He scored 14 points, including eight early points in the first half to help take some pressure off. He also did a nice job on defense keeping the San Diego State frontcourt in check. Consider that Malcolm Thomas and Billy White scored 16 points combined. Combine that with five blocked shots from James Anderson, and the big men really stepped up to limit the Aztecs down low.
  • The atmosphere was incredible. Some 22,000 screaming BYU fans roared at every basket, students brought homemade signs and ran for their seats as early as two hours before the game. The crowd included Fredette's family members as well. The Mountain West was able to put its best foot forward on this night.

Saddle Up: You know what it is

January, 26, 2011
1/26/11
6:24
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Saddle Up is our semi-daily preview of the night's best basketball action. Everything it do, it do it big. (Yeah, uh huh ...)

No. 4 San Diego State at No. 9 BYU, 10 p.m. ET, CBS College Sports: Comedian Louis C.K. has a rather depressing bit in "Hilarious," his latest stand-up special, in which he declares optimism to be synonymous with stupidity:
"You have to be optimistic to be single. Stupid. You've got to be stupid. That's what optimistic means, you know. It means stupid. An optimist is someone who says, 'Hey, maybe something nice will happen!' Why the [blank] would anything nice EVER happen? What are you, stupid?!"

That's Louis's worldview -- comically bleak, you could say -- and I'm not always sure it's the right one. (Though anyone who has been single for any period of time can certainly see what Mr. C.K. is getting at.) Me, I tend to like optimism, especially when it comes to college basketball.

I start each season with hope. I watch bad games on the off chance they turn good. I hope mediocre outings turn into classics. And I'm confident great matchups will live up to their billing, even if that billing is so overblown that it seems impossible for any game to truly fulfill those expectations.

Which brings us to San Diego State's trip to Brigham Young tonight. This is the game many have waiting for over the last few weeks, months, even years. It's the biggest game in Mountain West Conference history, the biggest game BYU has played in decades, and the biggest game in the history of San Diego State's traditionally fledgling hoops program.

In the red corner: One of nation's two remaining unbeaten teams (SDSU). In the blue corner: One of the nation's most consistently entertaining, fast-paced teams (BYU). And right smack dab in the middle is BYU guard Jimmer Fredette, who is not only a top national player of the year candidates, but one of those rare players in the sport -- like Stephen Curry, Larry Bird, Pete Maravich and few others before him -- capable of sparking an immense cult following with nothing more than the beauty of his individual excellence.

Naturally, that all sounds pretty awesome.

So, maybe I'm more like Louis C.K. than I'd like to think ... but I'm a little wary we might be setting ourselves up for a letdown.

You can read a nuts and bolts preview of the game here. You can also delve into how SDSU will likely try to stop Fredette here. At this point, tonight's game has been so widely discussed and eagerly anticipated that I don't have much to add in the way of analysis.

Instead, I'd just like to say this: Whatever happens tonight, let's enjoy it. This game has been billed as a classic so many times that it almost feels bound to disappoint. Let's not let that happen.

Let's cherish Kawhi Leonard, D.J. Gay, Billy White and the rest of San Diego State's unlikely, resource-bereft Final Four contender. Let's appreciate BYU's uptempo attack, its fire-away philosophy and its rare blend of quirk and skill.

Most of all, let's appreciate Fredette. Whatever happens tonight, you'll be watching one of the most fascinating and thrilling players we've ever seen step on a college basketball court. In 30 years, when YouTube is beamed directly into our brains, you'll still be watching Jimmer highlights. Don't miss him now.

I still think this game will be a classic. I'm still optimistic. But even if our astronomical expectations get the best of us -- even if this game is merely "good," even if Fredette doesn't melt our faces in customary fashion -- whatever we do see is bound to be pretty great. Soak it in, folks. Players like Fredette don't come along often. Games like this don't hit our TVs every week. Keep your expectations realistic but your enthusiasm high.

After all, you never know. Maybe something nice will happen.

(And just in case, I should remind you that I'll be live-chatting throughout the game right here. Drop by, and we'll enjoy this one together.)

Everywhere else: Texas is riding high after a program-defining win at Kansas on Saturday, but a trip to Oklahoma State (7:30 ET, ESPN) has all the makings of a trap game. ... Two 4-2 Big East teams will meet in Louisville tonight, and it will be interesting to see where West Virginia's season goes after the departure of Dan Jennings and the suspension of leading scorer Casey Mitchell. ... The last time Providence played at home, it took down the aforementioned Cardinals. Tonight, the Friars will try to extend that home upset mojo to a game with the more imposing Villanova Wildcats. ... St. John's travels to Georgetown. ... In Big Ten action, Northwestern will try to rebound from its home blowout at the hands of a ruthless efficient Wisconsin team with a win in Minneapolis. ... Charlotte is at Temple. ... Drexel will play fellow pesky Colonial member James Madison at JMU. ... Wichita State travels to Southern Illinois. ... North Carolina will see if freshman point guard Kendall Marshall can continue to make a difference at Miami. ... And Creighton faces UNI in a matchup of two of the Missouri Valley's second-tier contenders. See you in the chat, everyone.
ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla takes a look at one of the biggest games of the season: Tonight's 10 p.m. ET matchup between No. 4 San Diego State (20-0, 5-0) and No. 9 BYU (19-1, 5-0) in Provo, Utah.

What’s at stake?: Sole possession of first place in the Mountain West Conference and a leg up on the regular-season crown, national prestige, and at least temporarily, a chance to improve NCAA seeding. A season ago, BYU beat San Diego State in both regular-season games as Jimmer Fredette averaged 29.5 points and 5.5 assists. This season, both teams are off to blistering starts with the Aztecs undefeated and the Cougars’ only blemish to UCLA at the Wooden Classic in Anaheim.

Key matchup: BYU's Jimmer Fredette vs. San Diego State’s D. J. Gay
The two seniors have gone against each other for the past few years, and while Fredette has become a well-deserved national player of the year contender, SDSU coach Steve Fisher calls Gay the most important player on his undefeated team.

Fredette, the most prolific scorer in college basketball, has already scored more than 2,000 points for the Cougs and is closing in on Danny Ainge’s 2,467 career points record at BYU. He has already gone for 42 or more points four times over the past two seasons. All four of those performances came on the road or at neutral sites. The senior from Glens Falls, N.Y., is more than a great shooter. He has an uncanny ability to create space for his shot and his combination of tremendous ballhandling and strength gets him into the lane area at will. NBA scouts are finally buying into his game.

Meanwhile, Fisher's respect for Gay is for good reason. The 6-foot senior has never missed a game in four seasons and has averaged more than 34 minutes a game in the past two seasons. In fact, he has not only been the team’s primary ball handler but has been a timely scorer as well. Last week, he dropped in 30 points at The Pit against New Mexico, including three huge 3-pointers to break open a close game.

X factors: San Diego State’s Kawhi Leonard and BYU’s Jackson Emery
Leonard was an underrated high school player who has been a revelation for the Aztecs in his first two seasons. The 6-7 sophomore, who has a Ron Artest build and the largest hands in college basketball, is a relentless offensive rebounder. In fact, when combined with seniors Billy White and Malcolm Thomas, he gives Fisher one of the country’s best offensive-rebounding teams.

At Brigham Young, Emery is Robin to Fredette’s Batman. The 6-3 senior is one of the most efficient offensive players in college basketball, according to kenpom.com. He is shooting 41 percent behind the 3-point line and better than 60 percent from inside the line. And, fittingly on the night that Fredette scored 47 at Utah two weeks ago, Emery scored 20 points himself and broke Ainge’s all-time steals record at BYU.

Sneaky strengths: BYU’s Noah Hartsock and San Diego State’s Malcolm Thomas
Hartsock has been one of the Cougars’ most physical players since he arrived in Provo. But the 6-8 junior spent the summer increasing his shooting range and it has paid off. He has made 15 of 25 3-point shots this season, so the Aztecs must account for him when he is on the perimeter.

While Thomas has carved out a reputation as a rugged customer at both ends of the court because of his rebounding and shot-blocking, his most underrated attribute might be his passing ability. His 14 percent assist rate is very high for a frontcourt player and he has had some great looks for his teammates this season.

Key statistics: Rebounding rate and 3-point shooting
Defensive rebounding rate is the percentage of a team’s available defensive rebounds that it secures. BYU’s defensive rebounding rate (71.3 percent) is in the top 10 in the country. It is critical in this game that the Cougars rebound on the defensive end at an even higher rate against the Aztecs. In order for the Cougars to effectively fast break, they will need to keep San Diego State off the offensive glass. And keeping the Aztecs from rebounding effectively on the offensive glass will eliminate a major part of their offensive attack.

BYU’s ability to shoot the ball from deep has been well-chronicled this season, as Fredette, Emery and Hartsock can make that shot. But it will be the Aztecs who need to make some 3-point shots if they can’t rebound effectively on the offensive end. Santa Clara transfer James Rahon has made 43 percent of his long balls this season and he might need to be on again for SDSU. In last season’s 82-68 win in Provo, the Cougars sat in a 2-3 zone for the last 35 minutes of the game.

Counting down until San Diego State-BYU

January, 26, 2011
1/26/11
9:00
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From the students waking up this morning in the bitter cold outside the Marriott Center to the fans readying for watch parties all over Southern California, go crazy.

For the rest of the college basketball nation, this is your night, too.

That’s the message both BYU and San Diego State sent prior to the two top-10 teams colliding tonight in Provo. This game is huge, and the two programs unaccustomed to receiving this amount of attention didn’t do anything this week to downplay that fact.

"It's a big deal," BYU star guard Jimmer Fredette said. "Two top teams playing against each other in the Mountain West Conference, it doesn't happen all that often.

[+] EnlargeJimmer Fredette
Boyd Ivey/Icon SMIJimmer Fredette leads the nation in scoring at 26.7 ppg.
"If we can win it, it'll help us with everything."

To the winner goes first place in the Mountain West, a boost in the rankings and another bragging point for the NCAA selection committee to consider. The resulting national buzz doesn't hurt, either.

"Everybody will be talking about that game, and we like that," San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said.

But what these two teams are really after is, quite simply, respect.

San Diego State knew it was going to be good coming into this season, but did anyone know it would be this good? The upstart Aztecs are one of the nation's final two unbeaten teams at 20-0, and after getting ranked for the first time in school history, they've now ascended to No. 4 in both polls.

Pretty good for a program that's never won an NCAA tournament game.

Kawhi Leonard, its most heralded player, averages a double-double (15.7 ppg, 10.3 rpg) as a sophomore and is an NBA prospect, yet was under-recruited even after a high school career that ended with him being named California's Mr. Basketball. He forms a versatile frontcourt with Malcolm Thomas and Billy White, and they can all score and handle the ball.

"The frontline of San Diego State, they get points all different ways," BYU coach Dave Rose said. "On the post, individual moves, points off of transition baskets when they’re running the floor and off offensive rebounds."

The one-loss Cougars, meanwhile, have seen Fredette go from small-town New Yorker to folk hero. The national scoring leader (26.7 ppg) is a legitimate national player of the year candidate. He’s scored 40-plus points in two of his past three games and can essentially make a 3-pointer from anywhere he wants.

"Fredette is, in my opinion, the player of the year," Fisher said. "It won't be a one-man operation [guarding him]. We're going to hope he misses some of the shots he takes."

Fredette doesn't share that sentiment.

"Hopefully San Diego State doesn't have anything we can’t dissect," he said.

The Aztecs are expected to run a number of different defenders at Fredette, and as point guard counterpart D.J. Gay said, "Everybody guards Jimmer Fredette."

Their attempts at containing him will be a sight to see, as will be the crowd's excitement for Fredette's every move inside the 22,700-seat Marriott Center.

It's a clash everyone will be watching.

A clash that can't get here soon enough.

Best in Cali: SDSU rolls through Berkeley

December, 9, 2010
12/09/10
2:23
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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.

[+] EnlargeSan Diego State's Steve Fisher
AP Photo/Ben MargotSteve 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.”

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