Marquette-San Diego St. Preview
Steve Fisher has guided San Diego State to four consecutive NCAA tournament berths, and the Wooden Legacy seems to be preparing it for another run.
The Aztecs look to knock off a second straight ranked opponent when they face No. 25 Marquette in the championship game Sunday in Anaheim.
Fisher, who coached Michigan to three national championship games and won the 1989 title, has turned a once-hapless program into a Mountain West Conference power in his 14 years at San Diego State.
The only loss for the Aztecs (4-1) this season was to then-No. 6 Arizona 69-60 on Nov. 14, and they overcame a 12-point deficit Friday to upset No. 20 Creighton 86-80 in this tournament's semifinals.
"We played a very good team that will be an NCAA tournament team," Fisher said. "We tilted a little bit, but we finally did what we had to do and that was have the heart to go out and win.
"I'm proud of our team and we are very excited to be playing on Sunday in the championship game."
San Diego State allowed All-American Doug McDermott to go off for 30 points, but it used a balanced scoring attack of its own with five players in double figures - led by 26 from Xavier Thames.
"I expected Thames to play the way he did," Fisher said. "He's a fifth-year senior, so he's been there and done that. He knows how to lead and he knows how to win."
Sophomore Winston Shepard added 16 points and 10 rebounds.
"I don't have to look at the stat sheet to see who played a good game, but Winston had his first double-double for San Diego State. And he competed," Fisher said. "He found ways to make plays."
The Aztecs likely will need another solid effort to beat the Golden Eagles (5-2) for the tournament title. Marquette led by 21 at halftime and never trailed in Friday's 76-60 victory over previously-unbeaten George Washington in the other semifinal.
Jake Thomas scored 13 points and hit 3 of 5 3-point attempts to help the Golden Eagles go 8 of 15 from long range.
Davante Gardner, the team's leading scorer at 15.1 points per game, continued his solid play off the bench and finished with a game-high 20. The senior big man has started only 12 times in 102 career games, each coming in the 2011-12 season.
"Most people think I should start, but I don't really think about starting," Gardner said.
He played a career-high 35 minutes Friday and has scored in double figures in six of seven games.
"I thought he was playing at a really high clip," coach Buzz Williams said.
Williams was most impressed with his team's defense, which limited the Colonials to 33.3 percent shooting. Four of Marquette's opponents have shot worse than 40 percent, and it has a 38.5 field-goal percentage defense that is second-best in the 10-team Big East.
San Diego State is shooting 53.6 percent overall and 50 percent from 3-point range over its last three.
"If you've watched us in practice or in some of our earlier games, sometimes we've had a hard time making open shots," Fisher said.
Friday's win over Creighton marked the Aztecs' first in nine all-time games against Big East teams.