Aztecs Open Season With Road Win

Sunday, Nov 14, 2010  |  Updated 9:30 AM PDT
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Aztecs Open Season With Road Win

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The Aztecs.

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Steve Fisher knows a thing or two about managing the expectations that come with being nationally ranked. The San Diego State Aztecs, however, will have to learn as such as they go.

On Saturday, they passed their first test.

Kawhi Leonard had 21 points and 12 rebounds and D.J. Gay scored 20 points to lead No. 25 San Diego State to an 81-65 victory over Long Beach State in its first game ever as a ranked team.

"You couldn't help but hear about it, it being the first time we're ranked," said Fisher, who is in his 12th season with the Aztecs and previously won a national championship at Michigan in 1989 while appearing in two other title games.

"I told the team that on Oct. 28 we're ranked. We're going to look again Dec. 4 and see if we can find ourselves."

James Rahon scored 11 of his 14 points in the second half, including three 3-pointers during a crucial stretch, and Chase Tapley had 11 points for the Aztecs (1-0), who turned a nip and tuck contest into a sizable cushion courtesy of a late 15-3 run.

"This score is not indicative of the game," Fisher said. "We had a little more depth and a little more size, and I think in time that won out."

The Aztecs opened the season ranked for the first time in program history. Returning all five starters from last season's 25-9 team that won the Mountain West Conference tournament and was beaten 62-59 by Tennessee in the NCAA tournament, they avoided the upset in front of a boisterous crowd.

Trailing by a point, Rahon hit three consecutive 3-pointers to cap an 11-0 spurt that gave the Aztecs a 65-55 lead with 8:06 left.

Rahon, who sat out last season after transferring from Santa Clara, immediately showed his value from the outside.

"We all knew what he could do," Gay said. "He brings what we lacked last year, and that's 3-point shooting.

The 49ers (0-1) answered with two field goals before Gay's 3-pointer made it 69-62. The Aztecs extended the lead to 73-63 on consecutive putbacks by Billy White and Leonard and cruised from there.

The schedule doesn't figure to get any easier for the Aztecs, who travel to face No. 12 Gonzaga on Tuesday in another early-season test on the team's quest to win a NCAA tournament game for the first time.

"We have to go into every game like it's the championship," Gay said. "We had great energy today and came out on top."

T.J Robinson finished with 19 points and nine rebounds and Casper Ware added 15 points for the 49ers, who lost their 19th straight game against a ranked opponent. Their last win over a ranked opponent was an 84-83 victory No. 25 New Mexico State on Dec. 24, 1994. They dropped to 0-5 all-time at home against ranked opponents.

Playing in front of a standing-room only crowd of 5,143, the largest in Walter Pyramid history, the 49ers fed off the energy early on. But they were unable to keep the intensity when it counted late.

"I think we were over-excited at the beginning and it hurt us at the end," Ware said.

After the 49ers built their largest lead of seven points in the opening minutes, the Aztecs followed with an 18-6 run that eventually became a 40-32 lead.

The 49ers closed out the half by scoring seven straight points, including an alley-oop finish by Robinson from Ware right before the buzzer to tie it at 42-42.

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