And then there were two.
San Diego State faces Connecticut at 6:20 p.m. Monday for the NCAA Tournament crown in a matchup of teams with with vastly different pedigrees. SDSU is in its first championship game on college basketball’s biggest stage, while UConn has both been in the game before and prevailed.
So the Aztecs again will play the underdog role and it’s not a bad place for them to be, says Lamont Butler.
“I thought we’ve been underdogs this whole tournament. That’s the mentality we (took) into it,” he said, adding that the team would like to “keep on proving people wrong.”
Watch to see if they can do so on CBS, KFMB Channel 8 or at the official watch party at Viejas Arena. (Also, be warned, San Diego State will close down three nearby intersections – College Avenue and Lindo Paseo, and 55th Street at both Montezuma and Remington Road – perhaps to prep for a big celebration?)
Here’s some nuts and bolts on how SDSU and UConn match up:
- Aztecs – 32-6, No. 18 in AP Top 25, No. 5 seed in South Region
- Huskies – 30-8, No. 10 in AP Top 25, No. 4 seed in West Region
Regular season/conference tournament
- Aztecs – Won Mountain West season and tournament titles
- Huskies – 4th in Big East (trailed Creighton, which SDSU beat to make it to Final Four) and fell in semi-finals of the tournament.
2023 NCAA Tournament wins
- Aztecs – Charleston, Furman, top-seeded Alabama, Creighton and FAU
- Huskies – Iona, Saint Mary’s, Arkansas, No. 3 seed Gonzaga, Miami (they won three of the games by 20 or more).
- Aztecs – the bench. Butler and Nathan Mensah won top MW defensive honors, and Matt Bradley was first-team all conference, but thanks to a deep bench, role players get their chance to shine with the Aztecs.
- Huskies – Adama Sanogo and Jordan Hawkins, both named first team, all-Big East, after averaging 17 points a game in the regular season. A freshman, Alex Karaban, also caught fire in the tournament.
- Aztecs – D, D and more D. Their elite defense has held opponents, even those with potent offenses, to an average of 60 points a game during March Madness.
- Huskies – Butler breaks it down. “They can get it going on the outside – they have great shooters out there – (and) on the inside they have some big dudes,” he said. Head coach Brian Dutcher adds, “They’re as good a three-point shooting team we’ve seen in transition all year.”
- Aztecs – a tendency for offensive droughts. The team wouldn’t have needed Butler’s buzzer beater against FAU if they hadn’t gone 2-for-11 from the field in the eight minutes leading up to it.
- Huskies – the possibility of returning to their mid-season form, when the team lost six games in the Big East.
- Aztecs – made the Sweet 16 twice , in 2011 and 2014. This year is their deepest run in the tournament.
- Huskies – four championships since 1999, the latest in 2014.
In 2011, UConn defeated SDSU 74-67 when they met in the Sweet 16, on the way to winning the title.