SAN DIEGO — Hawaii guard Jerald Wrightsil yelled "Switch!" Nobody fought through the pick, and a couple of seconds later, San Diego State freshman guard Tony Ross' 22-foot rainbow jumper went swish.
With eight seconds to play and four seconds remaining on the 45-second shot clock, Ross' three-pointer from the top of the key gave the Aztecs a 93-90 victory against Hawaii.
When Ross scored, the crowd of 836 in the San Diego Sports Arena cheered as loudly as 836 can cheer.
After two timeouts--one by each team--Hawaii forward Alan Andrus' three-point shot from 20 feet bounced off the back rim at the buzzer, and the Aztecs were headed to Albuquerque.
By winning the showdown between the eighth-place teams in the Western Athletic Conference, SDSU (5-24) gained the final spot in the WAC tournament that begins Thursday at the University of New Mexico.
SDSU--the No. 8 seeded team but one that has won two straight for the first time this season--will face top-seeded Texas El Paso at 8 p.m. (PST) Thursday.
"It's Albuquerque," yelled the Aztecs as they raced into the locker room. "Let's have some fun."
And to think that just moments before the Aztecs were on the verge of a collapse.
After leading by one point at halftime, SDSU led, 87-71, with 5:07 to play. But then the Rainbow Warriors scored 12 straight points to lead 87-83 with 2:15 left.
During that three-minute span, Aztec Coach Smokey Gaines did not call a timeout.
With 50 seconds to play, Hawaii guard Chris Gaines hit a 10-footer to tie the game at 90.
Would the Aztecs panic or pull it out?
"All I could think was that it was not meant for us to be in the tournament," said Aztec center Gerald Murray, who had 12 points and 12 rebounds and made the pass to Ross for his game-winning shot.
"It shouldn't have been that close," Murray said. "Thank God we pulled it out."
"I designed it," Gaines said of Ross' game-winner. "Well, we did want to take the shot with three or four seconds remaining on the 45-second clock."
Said Ross: "Coach Gaines said to work it around unless we had a layup. When their guard yelled, 'Switch,' I said, 'Gerald (Murray), I'm behind you.' He gave me the ball."
Despite scoring just four and five points in limited play during his last two games, Ross said he felt good Tuesday night.
"I hit my first shot and felt into the game," Ross said. "After that, I went out and played my game.
"They started out playing a token box-and-one on me, but then they went into a zone. I was surprised they let us roam free. They seemed to be worried about Gerald."
Ross made 8 of 10 three-pointers and scored a game-high 30 points.
The Hawaii defense--what there was of it--collapsed on Murray and Juan Espinoza (who scored a career-high 19 points). That left the wings open for Ross and Darryl Gaines (8 points, including 2 of 4 three-pointers).
"They were playing us tight down low," Murray said. "We wanted to make them play the men outside honest."
The Aztecs shot 63% from the field for the game and 69% in the second half. Hawaii shot 55% for the game and 59% in the second half. And it was a sloppy game--the Aztecs committed 23 turnovers and Hawaii 17.
Hawaii (7-21) was led in scoring by Wrightsil with 23. Chris Gaines added 22, John Gabriel 15 and Andrus 12.
The Rainbows fought back, but Hawaii Coach Frank Arnold will be haunted by something he continually preached to his players throughout the game: "We have to stop Ross."