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Aztec women carving niche in San Diego basketball lore

San Diego and basketball. Strange partners.

Mention basketball in San Diego and you think of the past. The San Diego Rockets, the days of Elvin Hayes and the franchise that became the Houston Rockets.

Mention basketball a second time, and the old tri-colored basketball days of the ABA come to mind with the San Diego Conquistadors, the Sails and the likes of Wilt Chamberlain as coach.

Mention basketball a third time, and memories of the controversial days of owner Donald Sterling, World B. Free, Randy Smith and the Clippers come to mind.

Mention basketball in terms of the present, and Steve Fisher and his accomplishments with the Aztecs men’s program stand out.

But you better mention the team in the other locker room — the Aztec women.

There’s still another basketball game to be played involving a team from San Diego State. The Aztec women are still shooting threes, grabbing rebounds and hitting free throws. And they are winning games in the NCAA Tournament.

On Sunday night, SDSU ambushed another ranked team, Texas — a year after taking out DePaul in a first-round game in San Diego.

On Tuesday night, they knocked off 3-seed West Virginia.

The Aztecs are going to the regional semifinals for the first time in school history. SDSU will play Duke at 11 a.m. Saturday, March 27.

Coach Beth Burns has done it again — created a great team, recruited enormous raw talent and instilled a passion to the women’s program. They drive to the basket, hit long jumpers and defend the rim every trip down the floor.

Sunday, there was Jené Morris hitting jump shots, drilling free throws, snaring rebounds and running the floor. When she was done, she had 32 points and her team had another upset win. She let the nation see how good a player she is — possibly as good as anyone in the country west of Storrs, Conn., home of the juggernaut Lady Huskies.

Guard Q (Quenese) Davis, starting for her third year in a row, ran a razor-sharp passing offense and hit big shots as the floor general. Paris Johnson and Coco Davis came up big inside. Then Burns got great mileage off the bench, thanks to Jessica Bradley and Allison Duffy.

State’s win over Texas was more than just a demanding coach and two very good stars. It was role players and amazing athleticism — it was physicality and intensity.

It was hitting 7-of-8 three pointers out of the gate. It was forcing seven Texas turnovers in eight minutes to begin the game. It was the stamina to withstand three different Lady Longhorn comebacks. What was a 19-point lead early was whittled down to eight, extended back out, cut to seven, pushed out again and then chopped back to six. Every time there was a Texas run, there was a San Diego State answer.

It’s a special team that played to empty houses at Viejas Arena. There were no such things as sellouts for the Aztecs at home – just wins. Now, the nation has seen how good this team is.

San Diego State will not become UConn, with its 6-foot, 8-inch centers and 73-game winning streak. But it is becoming a West Coast power with hopes of continuing to build for the future. They have 22 wins this year and have won two NCAA tourney games over the last two years, after going 13 seasons without a tourney appearance.

What Beth Burns has done, on the heels of what Steve Fisher has done, should send a message. Want to play hoops, go to a good school, win games and get seen on television? Come to San Diego.

The weather’s not all that bad. The basketball isn’t either. Twenty-win seasons and postseason tournament victories are turning SDSU into a basketball school.

The Aztecs are igniting the flame of interest in basketball in a city burned by the failure of the likes of the Rockets, Conquistadors, Sails and Clips.
Lee Hamilton hosts “Sportstwatch” weekend afternoons (3-7 p.m.) on XX-1090. His SDNN columns have been honored by the San Diego Press Club.