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Aztecs, Buoyed by BYU Upset, Challenge Utah

February 20, 1988|CHRIS DE LUCA

SAN DIEGO — Jim Brandenburg, San Diego State's basketball coach, was recently reminded of his consistent winning records over the past 11 years. He laughed and waved off the reminder.

"Don't even get into that," Brandenburg said.

In those 11 seasons, Brandenburg has not coached a losing team. Since the Aztecs lost five of their first six Western Athletic Conference games and are 10-13 overall, Brandenburg's record seems to be in jeopardy.

But heading into today's WAC game against Utah (15-8, 7-4) at 2:05 p.m. at the Sports Arena, Brandenburg is suddenly talking about the Aztecs (3-8 in conference) playing for a WAC title.

It's amazing what an 82-80 overtime victory over No. 7 Brigham Young can do.

"Well, gosh, let's put it this way. No one else in the Western Athletic Conference has been able to get to BYU, and we did," Brandenburg said of Thursday night's upset of the Cougars (21-1, 9-1). "So we have to believe that if we have done it once, we can do it twice.

"We have to start playing for position in the postseason conference tournament and then giving it the best shot in the tournament, and all you need is to get hot in the tournament, and you're in postseason play."

Well, that philosophy worked against BYU. After shivering in the opening minutes, allowing BYU an 8-1 lead, the Aztecs certainly got hot. They tied the score, 11-11, and never trailed again in the first half.

Brandenburg hopes the victory will set the Aztecs on the winning course. It was their second upset of a nationally ranked team this season--SDSU beat then-No. 18 New Mexico, 64-59, on Jan. 14.

That was followed by losses to Texas El Paso (75-53) and Air Force (60-57).

"Right now, this is the biggest," Brandenburg said. "That other stuff is all history. This is great momentum to build a program.

"It's kind of a bench mark for us. This is a sweet victory. BYU has a class program. It has won an awful lot, so it means a lot to beat them."

It would mean almost the same to beat Utah. With five games remaining in the regular season, SDSU can afford to lose just one game to ensure a .500 season. The closest Brandenburg has ever came to not finishing above .500 was 1984-85 at Wyoming, when the team finished 15-14.

Right now, Brandenburg is more concerned with stopping Utah and forward Mitch Smith, who entered the week as the WAC's top rebounder (9.5 per game).

"I think it was an uncommon thing that we did Thursday night," Brandenburg said. "But it will only remain uncommon if we have the same kind of effort against Utah."

Aztec Notes

Forward Juan Espinoza's condition remains questionable, Coach Jim Brandenburg said. Espinoza has been experiencing back spasms since the Aztecs returned from Texas El Paso last week. Espinoza played briefly in the overtime period in Thursday's upset of BYU. He was inserted because of his steady free-throw percentage (65%), Brandenburg said. . . . Today's game time was changed to 2:05 because it will be televised as the WAC game of the week. It will be shown locally on KUSI TV (Channel 51). . . . Military personnel showing proper ID at the east entrance will be admitted free.

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