MEMPHIS, Tenn. – The San Diego State Aztecs are underdogs on paper as the last double-digit seed still playing in the NCAA tournament.
They’re sure not acting like it.
Coach Beth Burns joked Friday that her Aztecs were busy playing Pictionary in the locker room before practice. The 11th-seeded Aztecs play No. 2 seed Duke in the Memphis Regional semifinal today, and their goal is trying to become the first double-digit seed to reach a regional final since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1994.
“I am not a good listener, and everybody is telling us we shouldn’t be here and we are still here. We play 40 minutes, and we don’t have to play anybody 10 times, just once. We are confident and respectful of the talent in this region because it is remarkable. That is what we are working toward,” Burns said.
Aztecs senior guard Jene Morris said all the pressure is on the Blue Devils, a program that has been to a regional final seven times in the past 12 years.
“That is helping us. We are the lowest seed, but we have just as good of chance as everybody else. We are just going out and giving it our all and continuing to build the momentum we have built thus far,” Morris said.
That is considerable. The Aztecs (23-10) rolled through to their first Mountain West Conference tournament championship. Then they opened the NCAA tournament by beating Texas on its home court and downed third-seeded West Virginia 64-55 to reach the round of 16 for the first time since 1985.
Not bad for a program Burns came to five seasons ago to rebuild, only to stumble out 0-16 in conference play her first season.
“We don’t have anybody to emulate. We don’t look to our juniors and seniors or the banners. The coaches try to give direction on how to be and how we try to be is tough and confident. We have aspired to do that and earn respect,” Burns said.
San Diego State also has improved when it matters most.
The Aztecs averaged 27.5 free throws in each of their NCAA wins, and a team that came in ranked 241st nationally from outside the arc has hit 52 percent from 3-point range (13 of 25) through the first two games. Senior guards Quenese Davis and Jene Morris scored 19 and 27, respectively, against West Virginia.
Duke (29-5) will counter the Aztecs’ backcourt with junior guard Jasmine Thomas, who has scored in double figures 30 times this season. The Blue Devils are experienced with their Atlantic Coast Conference regular season and tournament titles, balanced with five players scoring at least seven points a game.
Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie doesn’t believe seeds matter at this point in the tournament.
“It doesn’t take a lot to motivate. Our players know how good the teams are and are excited to play,” she said.