MIAMI — Honolulu and Miami are better known as tourist destinations than bastions of college basketball. But they may be remembered by San Diego State Coach Jim Brandenburg as places where the Aztecs turned themselves around.
SDSU won its second consecutive game on the road Saturday, beating Miami, 56-49, in front of 2,778 at the Knight Center. The Aztecs ended an 18-game road losing streak Monday at Hawaii.
"I'm really proud of these guys," Brandenburg said. "Those may not be the greatest two wins in college basketball, but for our program and where it is, it's damn exciting for us."
Besides traveling over five time zones in as many days, the Aztecs played Saturday without junior guard Ty Walker, who left school Tuesday and returned to his home in Ingalls, Kan.
As a result, SDSU (9-11) used only two guards against the Hurricanes (13-9)--Tony Ross led the scoring with 15 points, and Bryan Williams added 8. The Aztec front line battled foul trouble all night playing against Miami's 7-foot 1-inch sophomore center, Tito Horford.
"We came out and played well early," Brandenburg said. "What cost us is when Sam Johnson went out with four fouls. The 10 minutes he sat out, they came back on us."
SDSU led, 36-33, at halftime, then held Miami scoreless through the first 6:29 of the second half to make it 42-33. A Johnson basket with 9:16 left made it 48-38. Then Johnson picked up his fifth foul, and the Aztecs went on their own scoreless streak.
Miami scored 11 unanswered points over the next six minutes to take its second lead, 49-48.
Miami's Eric Brown started the run with a free throw, and Bruce Moore followed with a steal and a dunk. Four more Miami free throws and a dunk by Horford on an offensive rebound brought the Hurricanes to within 48-47. Dennis Burns hit a 16-foot jump shot to give Miami a 49-48 lead with 3:02 remaining.
The Hurricanes missed an opportunity on SDSU's next possession. Center Mitch McMullen missed the front end of a one-and-one, but the Hurricanes couldn't get the rebound. Instead, the Aztecs' Rodney Hawkins, who finished with 13 points, rebounded and scored to give San Diego State a 50-49 lead with 2:26 to play.
"We put ourselves in a position to win it there," Miami Coach Bill Foster said. "We rebound that miss, then go up three, it's ours."
Instead, the Hurricanes panicked, missing their final eight shots from the field, six from 3-point range. The Hurricanes shot 18% from the field (4 of 22) in the second half. They were 1 of 13 from 3-point range.
The Aztecs, who themselves made just 7 of 22 second-half shots, managed a layup and four free throws down the stretch to clinch the victory.
"They played so much, so hard to stop our inside guys," Foster said. "We would have scored a bunch if we shot a lick from the outside."