BYU Drops Davies, SDSU Could Win Mountain West

The San Diego State University Aztecs are one of the surprise stories of this college basketball season. Now that BYU has suspended a key player, the Aztecs have a better chance at winning their conference.

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Ask college basketball fans what month it is and they will likely answer with a smile. March Madness is here. This week's conference championships are like the appetizers before next week's main course the start of the men's tournament. In the normally unheralded Mountain West, two teams ranked in the top 10 in the nation are expected to fight it out this year - Brigham Young University and San Diego State.

BYU is the top seed in the Mountain West. But a key player has been suspended. And now, the San Diego State Aztecs could be poised for one last rush in their surprising rollercoaster of a season. NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN: Think of last season as the end of San Diego State's long climb up the rollercoaster. Click, click, click, click, click anticipation building, the eyes getting wider as the Aztecs won 25 games and almost won their first ever game in the NCAA tournament. Click, click, click, click, click. Then this season, up, over and whoosh.

Crowd: I believe that we - I believe that we will win. I believe that we will win. I believe that we will win...

GOLDMAN: The rollercoaster flew into downtown San Diego last month for a team rally. Even the mayor was there. The Aztecs had the nation's best record - 27 and 1, that one being a little bump in the ride a loss to conference rival BYU. Still, San Diego State had become a darling with the national sports media. Even veteran head coach Steve Fisher, a practical Midwesterner, sounds a bit dizzy.

Mr. STEVE FISHER (Head Coach, San Diego State): We are in rarefied air. We have been rated as high as fourth in the country. And that's there with the bluebloods that are there every year. We had never been rated until this season.

GOLDMAN: San Diego State's schedule hasn't included any bluebloods - no Duke, no Kansas. But thanks to a tough defense, senior leadership and a head coach who's got the 1989 NCAA title with Michigan on his resume, the Aztecs have vanquished almost all of their opponents.

Unidentified Man: That should do it. And BYU has really handled the physical play of San Diego State. That was the key for them...

GOLDMAN: If the first BYU loss was a bump in the ride the second one, on San Diego State's home court late last month, was that big hill in the rollercoaster track where the car slows to a crawl. There'd been huge expectations for the game - biggest ever, said Aztec fans.

Then, crestfallen, they watched, along with a national CBS audience, as BYU star Jimmer Fredette and his mates manhandled the Aztecs.

Mr. EDWARD LEWIS (Sports editor, The Daily Aztec): It was pretty scary, you know. They were throwing stuff at Jimmer after the game, and it kind of was like, you know, this is really tension filled. They got to get out of the arena.

GOLDMAN: Edward Lewis, sports editor for the San Diego State student newspaper, watched the projectiles fly and thought, this is a bad showing for the show. That's what they call San Diego State's raucous and, some say, rude, student section. For the BYU games, many in the show dressed in short-sleeve white shirts and ties, wearing bike helmets - what they considered traditional Mormon missionary dress.

The clothes and antiMormon chants didn't seem to bother Fredette and friends. After the win, BYU surged in the polls to number three in the nation. San Diego State dropped to ninth. But then, two strong season-ending Aztec victories. And news that one of BYU's best players, forward Brandon Davies, violated the Mormon school's honor code and was dropped from the team. Without Davies, the team's best rebounder, BYU may be vulnerable. Here's Aztec senior point guard DJ Gay.

Mr. DJ GAY (San Diego State): BYU's facing adversity right now. It's, you know, probably the worst time to be going through this, heading into March Madness and stuff. But it's a sad story.

GOLDMAN: For BYU definitely. For San Diego State? Whoosh again?

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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