Comforted Aztecs Braced for Battle

Northern Colorado has "nothing to lose"

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    San Diego State Aztecs mascot Aztec Warrior appears on the court during the championship game of the Conoco Mountain West Conference Basketball tournament against the Brigham Young University Cougars at the Thomas & Mack Center March 12, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada. San Diego State won 72-54.

    San Diego State is comfortable.

    A No. 2 seed is the highest in the program’s history and provides a workable path to the Sweet 16.

    Its home arena and Tucson’s McKale Center is separated by little more than a six-hour drive — a practical Balboa Park stroll for its rabid fan base.

    But then there is Northern Colorado, the team the Aztecs meet Thursday at 1:40 p.m. to begin what they hope will be an extended NCAA Tournament run.

    San Diego State is not feeling too comfortable about the Bears.

    At least, not overly comfortable.

    “We have a lot of things going for us, but we've got a Northern Colorado opponent that doesn't care,” coach Steve Fisher said. “So our job is to not look too far ahead and become a fan but to do what nobody wants to hear, and that's grind away at our first game. That's what we're going to try to do.”

    The Aztecs players say they are carefully ready.

    They know the Bears’ underdog card well. Before this season, it was all they were dealt.

    They met Northern Colorado in 2008 and lost to them at home, back when Aztecs guard D.J. Gay and Bears guard Devon Beitzel — now standout seniors — were freshmen.

    Beitzel scored a career-high 15 points with four steals in 20 minutes to stun San Diego State 62-56. Gay had four assists.

    “He killed us my freshman year,” Gay said. “This year I've seen him play, and I forgot against who it was, but he's a very good guard and shooter. He can go a variety of ways. He's the heart and soul of the team, from what I saw. He's going to be a hard guard to deal with.”

    Sixty-four teams will spread out across eight different sites between Thursday and Friday.

    At about anywhere else, Northern Colorado would be an unknown, what with this being their first tournament berth in history under a first-year coach and only a few years removed from transitioning from Division II to Division I.

    The Aztecs haven't forgotten about the Bears.

    Not with a No. 2 seed in their pocket. Not this close to the Viejas Arena.

    “You know that they're going to play hard, and they've got nothing to lose,” said Billy White, senior forward. “This is all they have, and they're going to give us all they got. We just have to match their effort.”