D.J. Gay #23 of the San Diego State Aztecs and Elliott Lloyd #11 of the Northern Colorado Bears lay on the court after fighting for possession during the second round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at McKale Center on March 17, 2011 in Tucson, Arizona.
When D.J. Gay closes his eyes at night, the world turns mute.
He pictures an NCAA Tournament court on a blank, black screen.
Then one word comes scrolling through the bottom line of his mind, the kind of word that can jumpstart adrenaline and jolt a lying basketball player upright, all night.
“Opportunity,” said the senior point guard, who has helped guide San Diego State to a Sweet 16 matchup with UConn. “This is something you have dreamed about since you were a young kid, and to have the opportunity to get to do something that not everybody gets to do is special.”
The Aztecs have pioneered their way farther into the tournament than any other program in their history.
On Thursday at 4:15 p.m., they’ll face a challenge in Anaheim that is, in every sense of the word, their biggest yet.
The two-time national champion Huskies are among the nation’s toughest offensive teams in the interior to defend.
They're first in the country in total offensive rebounds — eighth in offensive rebound percentage — and in large part due to standout point guard Kemba Walker, excel at getting to the free throw and converting.
Walker, explosive off the dribble and a strong finisher around the rim, converts 81.8 percent of his 7.7 free-throw attempts per game. He also leads UConn with 23.6 points, 1.9 steals and 4.5 steals a contest.
“We have to do the same thing we did against Temple — just rebound and just keep playing like we have been playing,” forward Billy White said. “The key focus for Malcolm (Thomas) and I is just try to keep the big men out of the paint.”
Boxing out Alex Oriakhi (8.7 rebounds, 3.8 offensive) and limiting Walker is a nightmare task.
The chance to do it is the stuff of dreams.
“We have to sit back and embrace it and enjoy the opportunity we were given,” Gay said, “but know that at the same time, something bigger can come from it.”