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Saturday, September 21, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Aztecs in unfamiliar territory

San Diego State will need Malcolm Thomas, right, to come up big against UConn. (Associated Press)
San Diego State will need Malcolm Thomas, right, to come up big against UConn. (Associated Press)

SAN DIEGO – Now that San Diego State has reached the NCAA round of 16 for the first time, the easiest part will be the bus ride up the freeway to Anaheim.

Once there, star guard Kemba Walker and the No. 3 seed UConn Huskies will be waiting for the second-seeded Aztecs on Thursday.

To keep their dream season alive, the Aztecs (34-2) will have to play better than they did in escaping with a 71-64, double-overtime win against Temple on Saturday.

They also have to find a way to slow down Walker, who averages 23.6 points per game.

The Aztecs are clearly the novices in the West. UConn (28-9) has won two national championships, in 1999 and 2004, both through the West.

The other regional semifinal is between top-seeded Duke, which has four national titles, and fifth-seeded Arizona, which has one.

By comparison, SDSU has won only two games – both this year – in seven NCAA tournament appearances.

“We’re just trying to play hard and compete with all these teams that have great tradition and trying to get to a Final Four,” SDSU senior forward Malcolm Thomas said. “That’s everyone’s dream. But we’ve got to play a lot better if we want to get there.”

SDSU blew an 11-point lead against Temple, had spotty shooting all night and committed crucial turnovers.

The Aztecs hope that facing Jimmer Fredette three times this season will help them defend Walker. Fredette led BYU to two regular-season victories against the Aztecs, who then beat the Cougars in the Mountain West Conference tournament championship game.

“I think it’s going to take a group effort,” guard D.J. Gay said. “He’s a very good scorer; very good player. It’s going to take more than one guy to slow him down. I don’t know if we’re going to stop him. But just like Fredette, try to contain him.”

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