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San Diego State goes into survival mode

The second-seeded Aztecs pull out a double-overtime victory against Temple, 71-64.

March 19, 2011|Chris Dufresne
  • San Diego State forward Kawhi Leonard (15) fights for possession of the ball against Temple's Ramone Moore, left, and Rahlir Jefferson during a West Regional third-round game on Saturday in Tucson.
San Diego State forward Kawhi Leonard (15) fights for possession of the… (Matt Yoirk / Associated…)

Reporting from Tucson

It took San Diego State 40 years to get this far in the NCAA tournament — what was two extra overtimes on Saturday?

OK, it was actually excruciating.

Not "40 minutes of hell," the way Arkansas used to be called.

This was 50 minutes of bone-tiring brain drain.

San Diego State blew an 11-point first-half lead, squandered away the final minutes of regulation, crawled back from behind in the first overtime but finally outlasted Temple, 71-64, at the McKale Center.

Make that the Mc-Exhale Center.

San Diego State (34-2) is moving on to Anaheim for next week's West Regional round of 16, but the Aztecs will be moving slowly.

Sophomore guard Chase Tapley, after victory was finally secured, fell to the court and grabbed his toes to ward off cramping.

Tapley was tapped out.

His teammates picked him up.

"Like they have all season," he said.

In a few weeks the Aztecs will break down the tape and look at all the things that went wrong. They'll rue the 13 turnovers and the overall sloppiness.

San Diego State's regional semifinal opponent next Thursday certainly will not be cowering when they enter Honda Center.

The Aztecs did not play up to their No. 2 seeding, and part of that was No. 7 Temple controlling the tempo.

None of that matters.

San Diego State, already in uncharted waters after winning its first NCAA game on Thursday, just turned rudders north to the Sweet 16.

Temple's season is over at 26-8.

"You can't comprehend how stressful it is, how hard it is," Coach Steve Fisher said afterward about winning a close NCAA tournament game. "And how gratifying it is when you win and how disappointing it is when you don't win."

It takes talent, effort, big plays and luck.

The Aztecs' big play Saturday came in the 50th minute. They led by three when Temple's Lavoy Allen turned to flip in a short shot to cut the lead to one.

The shot, though, was violently redirected by Aztecs senior forward Malcolm Thomas. It was his fourth block of the day and the most important in the history of the program.

"It was an amazing block," teammate Billy White said.

It was also redemption for Thomas' key turnover earlier in the second overtime.

"I made a lot of plays that could have cost us the game," Thomas said.

But who remembers that now?

Temple fouled Kawhi Leonard with 30 seconds left, and he pushed the lead to five. Leonard's dunk off a steal seconds later only added the exaltation point.

There were two kinds of "tired" afterward. Temple's tired will be gnawing and long lasting.

"I'm not sure I'll watch this film," Temple Coach Fran Dunphy said. "I don't watch too many last games."

Allen played 50 minutes in his last game. He didn't want it to end, and it almost didn't.

"I'm going to miss putting on this Temple jersey," he said.

Temple never held the lead in the second half — and almost won. Allen's jump hook with 50 seconds left in regulation tied the score at 54-54. Overtime was forced when the Aztecs' Tapley missed a baseline runner right near the end.

Temple took its first lead since early in the first half on Juan Fernandez's three-point shot in the first overtime.

It was San Diego State's turn to rally.

Thomas' basket and free throw with two minutes left tied the game at 61-61, but he then missed a shot at the end of overtime that could have ended it.

San Diego State outlasted Temple in the second overtime. It was the "good" kind of tired.

"They were working on fumes, both teams," Fisher said.

Fisher did not substitute in either of the overtime periods.

"Go with what we got," he said.

Starting guard D.J. Gay, who finished with nine points and five assists, played all 50 minutes. Three other Aztecs — Leonard, Thomas and White — played 43 or more.

White, a 6-8 senior forward, continued his spark-plug play of late, recording his third straight double-double with 16 points and 13 rebounds.

Leonard, the team's star and leading scorer at 15.4 points per game, had 16 points but made only five of 14 shots and seemed a step slow the entire game.

Temple's game plan, obviously, was to make his life difficult.

"I think he's probably the No. 1 guy on their board," Fisher said of Temple's defensive strategy.

Leonard also had to defend Temple's best scorer, Ramone Moore, who finished with 17.

"He was wearing himself out on the defensive end also," Fisher said.

The game featured a lot of defensive holding. Temple held San Diego State to 43.1% shooting, and San Diego State held Temple to 37.9%. You don't become 34-2, though, without a few close calls.

"We find ways," Fisher said.

See you next Thursday.

"These are games that are hard," Fisher said. "They're hard for both sides. We ran off the floor all smiles and they ran off the floor with tears in their eyes. That's the nature of what we do."

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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