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.”
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.”