Sunday, February 7, 2016

New Mexico Lobos 71 at San Diego State Aztecs 78 (OT, NCAA Basketball, Mountain West) - February 6, 2016

The next stop on my California trip was San Diego, home of the Gulls, another AHL transplant. They had a night game on this Saturday, which freed up the afternoon for some college hoops, with San Diego State hosting New Mexico in a battle of the top two squads in the Mountain West.

The Aztecs play out of Viejas Arena which is built atop the old Aztec Bowl, where the football team played until 1967. President Kennedy spoke at a commencement ceremony in June, 1963 and for that reason, the Aztec Bowl is on the National Register of Historic Places. The seating bowl is still visible  as you walk around the exterior of the building.

Viejas Arena is ostensibly named for the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, but it really is advertising for the casino that they operate. However, as the arena is on campus, no mention of gambling is allowed.

The venue is unusual in that the main concourse is outside the building as you can see above. This is where you can find specialty food items including a Flavors of East Africa stand that was very popular.

Inside there is a smaller concourse with a few concession stands selling more typical fare, such as hot dogs, popcorn, and cookies. There are small posters around here honouring past stars, such as Michael Cage, who enjoyed a lengthy NBA career and is now broadcasting with the OKC Thunder.

The seating bowl is very steep, so even from the very last row, you still feel like you are on top of the action. Note that there are six rows of benches with the rest of the seats being plastic chairs. Tickets for this game were $40 for chairbacks and $20 for benches, but the game was sold out, which surprised me as I did not realize the team was so popular.

Fortunately, I found someone with an extra ticket and paid $20 to get in. The ticket was for the student seating area, which is general admission and comprises the three sections behind the far net in the photo below. You can see that it is already filling up as students want the best seats. I thought I would be out of place as an old guy, but as it turns out, many non-students sit there, so my advice is to buy a $20 seat and sit in the student section.

I made my way down to the fourth row and took an aisle seat. That's the view below.

By game time, the place had filled up with over 12,000 fans who really put on a show themselves. They ignore the visiting team intros and chant and cheer for much of the game. The best chant is "I Believe That We Will Win!!!" which is first chanted by adding a word each time and then repeated several times. I think the crowd atmosphere really impacted the players as they put together one of the best college games I have seen.

The Aztecs were 10-0 in conference play while New Mexico was 7-2. San Diego State is coached by Steve Fisher, who was the Michigan bench boss for their 1989 tournament win as well as the Fab Five years. The first half was excellent, with a lot of back and forth play and few fouls. Each team held the lead a couple of times, with the Lobos using a late layup from Sam Logwood (a rather redundant name) to take a 29-28 lead at the break.

The second half was similar, with SDSU taking a 48-41 lead only to see the Lobos come back and get within 52-50 with five minutes to go. This mark is important because the Aztecs are in the midst of one of the most amazing streaks - they had won 160 in a row when leading with five minutes remaining. The Lobos wanted no part of that streak and outscored SDSU 13-9 over the next four minutes. When Tim Williams missed a jumper, Logwood grabbed the offensive board and Elijah Brown drained a 3 to make it 66-61 with just 22 seconds left. San Diego State did not call timeout, preferring to run a play and Winston Shepherd followed up a Jeremy Hemsley (#42 above) miss with a layup to get within 3. At this point the Aztecs did call timeout. On the ensuing inbounds play, New Mexico passed the ball to a player coming out of bounds. This play is legal as long as the player moving out of bounds has one foot down, but the referee whistled it as illegal (incorrectly it was revealed later) and SDSU got the ball on the turnover. Malik Pope then sank a devilish three shot to tie the game at 66 with 6.6 seconds left.

This led to overtime and New Mexico took a 71-68 lead with two minutes to go. But their shooting went cold at that point as they missed their last four shots while Hemsley and Shepherd combined for 10 points for the Aztecs, who won 78-71 to extend that streak to 161 games.

This was a great game from start to finish, despite poor shooting from long range (9/47 combined). There were only 32 fouls called in 45 minutes, and although it was an officiating mistake that cost the Lobos the game, I still liked that the refs let them play. The return match is in Albuquerque on March 1, and promises to be just as entertaining.


I sat two seats behind a fan who was actually featured on the ticket. He even brought a board replicating the black and white crowd shot and it looked quite cool when he held up a ticket with the the board on his back. He was shown on the scoreboard but I haven't seen it anywhere else. ESPN didn't even cover the game on SportsCenter (at least the one I watched) because the top two teams (Oklahoma and North Carolina) in the country both lost to unranked teams (Kansas State and Notre Dame respectively).

At any rate, it is pretty cool to be featured on a ticket when you are a fan.



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