East County Sports

Remembering Fisher: Aztecs in Final Four

2023 LOCAL COVERAGE/  SDSU Men’s Basketball, NCAA Elite 8


Courtesy, Omaha World-Herald

For the fourth time in history (and the  the first since 3012) none of the No. 1 seeds advanced to the Final Four

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky – San Diego State was one of the worst programs in the country when Steve Fisher was named head coach and Brian Dutcher followed as lead assistant in the spring of 1999.

Fisher talked about turning the Aztecs into a national powerhouse, a preposterous notion for a program coming off a 4-22 record and about to go 5-23 without a single conference victory,

Fisher did make the program an NCAA Tournament regular before retiring in 2017. Dutcher took over and on Sunday, he did the unthinkable, guiding San Diego State into the Final Four for the first time with a 57-56 victory over Creighton in the South Region final in Louisville, Ky.

The Aztecs will be on the biggest stage in college basketball next Saturday when they face ninth-seeded Florida Atlantic (35-3) in the Final Four in Houston.

“We’re making the next step, and it’s something we’ve always talked about,” Dutcher said. “I’m sure there were people that doubted we could do it, but we never doubted for a minute. Not to say it’s easy to get there or that we would ever get there, but we’re there now, and we’re going to go and try to win the thing.”

Darrion Trammell made a tiebreaking free throw with 1.2 seconds remaining for the margin of victory. Lamont Butler scored 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting and Trammell added 12 points as the fifth-seeded Aztecs (31-6) followed their Friday takedown of No. 1 seed Alabama with their eighth straight victory.

Ryan Kalkbrenner had 17 points for sixth-seeded Creighton (24-13), which also was vying for its first Final Four appearance. Arthur Kaluma and Baylor Scheierman added 12 points apiece for the Bluejays.

The finish was controversial as Creighton coach Greg McDermott vociferously questioned whether Trammell was fouled by Ryan Nembhard.

Nembhard didn’t think he committed a foul though replays displayed his hand on Trammell’s side as the San Diego State player shot a floater.

“It’s a tough feeling. You work so hard all year, and it comes down to a play like that,” Nembhard said. “I don’t know. I think we could have done a little bit more to make it a game that didn’t have to go down to that, but it’s a tough way to lose.”

Trammell missed the first attempt at the line but made the second to give San Diego State the lead, and the Bluejays’ long last-ditch pass downcourt didn’t result in a shot.

“The moment wasn’t too big for me,” Trammell said. “… Just having that confidence that, yeah, I missed the first one, but I definitely wasn’t going to miss the second one.”

The finish was ironic as San Diego State lost to Creighton 72-69 in overtime in last year’s first round of the NCAA Tournament. In that game, the Aztecs’ Matt Bradley was at the line and missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with seven seconds left in regulation.

On Sunday, San Diego State made 37.9 percent of its field-goal attempts and was 3 of 13 from behind the arc.

Creighton shot 40 percent from the field, including a porous 2 of 17 from 3-point range.

Nathan Mensah sank a 14-foot jumper to give the Aztecs a 56-54 lead with 1:36 left.

San Diego State later was inbounding the ball from the side in its backcourt with 34.2 seconds left. Adam Seiko’s lob for Micah Parrish was errant and Scheierman intercepted it and laid the ball in to knot the score at 56 with 32.4 seconds remaining.

Trammell later made the biggest free throw in San Diego State history.

“Darrion is a big-time player for our team,” Butler said. “We needed him tonight. We just are glad to have him on our team.”

San Diego State missed 20 of 25 field-goal attempts over the first 12-plus minutes of the second half before staging a rally.

With the Aztecs trailing by four, Keshad Johnson converted a three-point play with 7:09 left and Trammell made a floater 24 seconds later as San Diego State took a 46-45 edge.
Creighton pushed back to tie the score at 46, 48 and 50.

Aguek Arop scored back-to-back baskets in a 55-second span to give the Aztecs a 54-50 edge with 3:04 remaining. Kalkbrenner then scored two inside hoops as the Bluejays tied it at 54 with two minutes left.

But Creighton never led again in the final minutes of a campaign that left McDermott feeling immensely proud.

“You want your team to grow. You want your team to get better,” McDermott said. “You want your team to come close to reaching your potential. You want your team to be playing the best basketball at the end of the season.

“And we checked all those boxes, and we did it in a way where they exhibited the character and the people that they are throughout the process.”

Kalkbrenner scored 10 first-half points as Creighton led 33-28 at the break.


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