AZTECS OPEN NCAA TOURNAMENT IN RHODE ISLAND; FACE TENNESSEE IN FIRST-ROUND ACTION
March 16, 2010 (San Diego) – The San Diego State University Aztecs, eleventh seeded men’s basketball team (25-9 overall; 11-5 Mountain West Conference), tournament champions of the MWC, travels to Providence, R.I., for a match-up against sixth-seeded and 15th/14th-ranked Tennessee (25-9 overall; 11-5 Southeastern Conference) in the fourth first-round game at the Dunkin' Donuts Center on Thursday.
Game time is set for 9:45 p.m. ET (6:45 p.m. PT) and the contest will be televised in high definition by CBS. The CBS game can also be accessed for free via the Internet. Radio coverage of the contest can be heard on AM 600 KOGO.
The Aztecs are postseason bound for a school-record fifth consecutive season and are making their sixth all-time NCAA Tournament appearance in 40 seasons at the Division I level and first since 2006.
San Diego State head coach Steve Fisher has a young Aztec squad (only one senior on the active roster) playing its best basketball of the campaign. Last weekend, San Diego State claimed its MWC-record-tying third conference tournament title by defeating Colorado State (72-71), eighth-ranked New Mexico (72-69) and UNLV (55-45) on its home floor.
Freshman forward Kawhi Leonard earned tournament most valuable player honors, averaging 14.3 points, 13.0 rebounds and connecting on 10-of-11 free-throw attempts in the three games. The freshman pulled down a career-high and tournament-record 21 rebounds to go along with 16 points in the victory over UNLV in the championship game.
Joining Leonard on the all-tournament team was junior forward Billy White, who averaged a team-high 16.7 points, 2.3 rebounds and connected on 20-of-30 (66.7 percent) attempts from the field during the three games.
The Aztecs have won a season-high five consecutive games and nine of its last 10, dating back to the first week in February. During that span, San Diego State defeated eighth-ranked New Mexico, snapping the Lobos' 15-game winning streak, and claimed the conference title on UNLV's home court, where the Aztecs are 4-3 against UNLV in the same span the Rebels are 41-1 against all other teams.
What San Diego State has accomplished this season is nothing short of remarkable. After losing players that accounted for 4,291 points in their career following a record-breaking 26-win season and a trip to the postseason NIT semifinals a year ago, the Aztecs are on the verge of matching that win total. With a dress roster that includes 10 players, three of whom are freshmen, one of whom was exclusively a student-manager earlier this month and only two significant contributors from the record-setting team a year ago, San Diego State is in its program-record fifth straight postseason tournament.
The Aztecs have also overcome significant injuries, including a season-ending knee surgery to Tim Shelton, wrist and high-ankle injuries to Billy White, a broken right thumb to Tyrone Shelley, a broken fourth metacarpal on the left hand of Chase Tapley. In all, Aztec players have missed 32 games this season due to injury.
Despite all of that, San Diego State is in the NCAA Tournament with a school-record RPI of 18 and a group that will likely return all five starters and nine of its top 10 scorers next season.