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January 26 - This Is Our Year

Being a San Diego State fan has always been a waiting game. Waiting for the
right players. Waiting for a new coach. Waiting for the bottom to fall out. Waiting for
next year.

However, after last night’s victory 75-69 over New Mexico, the Aztecs basketball
team has made fans change their dreams of next year to dreams of the present.

For those of you who haven’t played the agonizing game of being an Aztec fan, let
me share some history. This is the school that finds a way to lose games. Like
the disastrous 52-52 tie with BYU in 1991 where SDSU’s football team blew a
45-17 lead. Or the stunning achievement of last year’s basketball team that blew
a 10 point lead to UNLV over the final 18 seconds in a game they would lose in overtime.

Success on the basketball court has been particularly hard to come by for SDSU with only two
conference titles to the school’s credit since going D-1 in 1970. These Pacific Coast Athletic
Association Championships came in 1976-77 and 1977-78 seasons.

Since then, Aztec basketball has been a series of quick highs and prolonged lows. For example, the
1984-85 team went to the NCAA Tournament but just two seasons later SDSU’s record was 5-25.
Steve Fisher took over a team that won 4 games and took them back to the NCAA’s during his third
season in 2001-02. Next season the Aztecs went to the NIT marking the first time SDSU ever went to
the post-season two straight years. How did the team follow that up? By posting losing records in
2003-04 and 2004-05 with key players left ineligible due to academic problems. The Aztecs only saw
flashes of what senior point guard Wesley Stokes and the school’s first McDonald’s All-American
recruit, Evan Burns, could have meant to the team.

So forgive us as Aztec fans if a 6-1 start to the Mountain West Conference basketball season has us
dreaming the seemingly impossible. Coach Steve Fisher has turned a team that started a seemingly
pedestrian 7-5 in the out of conference schedule into a juggernaut that is sitting alone in first place
after seven games.

Even with the fast start, why should SDSU fans think that anything will be different this year? The
Aztecs have made their fans believe plenty of times only to break their hearts when it was least
expected. This year, the Aztecs are actually playing like what they were predicted to be: Favorites.

For the first time since joining the Mountain West Conference in 1999, the Aztecs were picked to finish
first in the pre-season media poll and their play on the court has done nothing to change that

It hasn’t just been the play of pre-season honorees like All-MWC selections Marcus
Slaughter (right) and Brandon Heath, or Newcomer of the Year Mohamed Abukar.
Abukar, along with freshmen guard Richie Williams and swingman Kyle Spain have
given then Aztecs the most athletic starting five in the conference. Off the bench,
senior guard John Sharper and big men Trimaine Davis and Mohamed Camara
round out the eight man rotation that Fisher has stuck with during conference play. A
rotation that has brought stability SDSU couldn’t count on thanks to early injuries and
Abukar, a transfer from Florida, not becoming eligible until December 27th against

Now Aztecs litter the Mountain West Conference’s leader boards with Heath leading
the conference in scoring at 17.9 points per game and Slaughter the leading rebounder averaging
10.6 per game. Still, Aztecs have put up gaudy individual statistics before without team success to
show for it. This season, play on the floor indicates things are different.

Starting with a 72-67 win in Utah, a place where the Aztecs have won only once in school history,
SDSU has seemingly found an identity as a team that will win by playing pressure defense. Down 23-
10 almost 15 minutes into the first half, the Aztecs turned up the defensive intensity to finish the half
on a 22-11 spurt to go into halftime down only 3. They took the lead with 12 minutes left in the game
and never gave it back even though Utah cut it to 1 with 3 minutes to play.

Since the win in Salt Lake City, SDSU has won their last four games by an average of 14.5 points on
the strength of that defense and an up-tempo style letting Williams use his speed to push the ball up
the floor. This style has taken advantage of the Aztec’s superior athleticism and allowed SDSU to
simply overwhelm conference opponents like they did when they beat BYU 88-61.

Almost through the first round of conference play, SDSU has momentum going into a tough road test
against Wyoming (4-2 MWC) in Laramie this weekend. Fortunately for SDSU, Arena-Auditorium is a
place the Aztecs have won three of their last four games.

Even after reading this, some Aztec fans will still wonder when this team is going to fall off. Just
consider this. The five game conference winning streak marks the first time an Aztec team has won
five conference games in a row since the 1984 season. In 1984 SDSU finished at 23-8 for the
season and went to the NCAA tournament. The current Aztec team has a chance to better that mark,
while sitting at 13-6 with 10 regular season games to play,

Even with young players playing key roles and highly touted Louisville transfer Lorenzo Wade eligible
next season, SDSU has a chance to be even better next year. But the conference success this
season has SDSU fans that said they wouldn’t let themselves be devastated by the Aztecs anymore
think a thought that always seemed slightly out of reach.

This is our year.