Highs, lows from Wooden Legacy tournament

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Four days of play in Orange County led to one final marquee event with a Sunday night championship matchup between No. 25 Marquette and San Diego State.

SDSU won in thrilling fashion, staving off a Marquette rally in the final minutes to upset the Golden Eagles 67-59 at the Honda Center in Anaheim.

The unranked Aztecs traveled up the I-5 and proceeded to beat two of college basketball’s heavyweights to win the Wooden Legacy Championship, the first time the program has ever beat back-to-back ranked opponents. The issue now in question, is why weren’t the Aztecs ranked to begin with?

“Based on what I know, I would say they’re worthy of that,” said Marquette head coach Buzz Williams.

San Diego State needed a win to jump into the rankings for the first time this season. If an 86-80 victory over No. 20 Creighton Friday night in Fullerton wasn’t enough to secure that spot before, the performance against the Golden Eagles should be sufficient enough to justify said ranking.

Guard Xavier Thames scored 29 points, 15 in the first half alone, and averaged 21.3 points per game en route to earning the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award. Thames proved to be the leader on the floor, efficiently guiding and directing his teammates during crucial moments.

“Xavier Thames is playing as good of basketball as anyone in the country,” said SDSU head coach Steve Fisher.

“I would say that he was the change,” Williams said. “He plays within himself and I don’t think he does things that Coach Fisher doesn’t want him to do.”

Marquette embarked on the trip with just one blemish on its record –a dismal 52-35 drubbing at the hands of Ohio State — and fell to Arizona State a few days before the tournament began. The Golden Eagles needed a win to stay in the rankings.

“The only reason there’s a number by our name is because the polls come out on Monday,” Williams said. “I don’t think we have earned the right to be ranked.”

The highs: San Diego State, Marquette, George Washington, Miami

George Washington head coach Mike Lonergan talked about the overall experience of the tournament before even getting to anything about the Colonels’ big Sunday win over No. 20 Creighton. The team enjoyed Disneyland and a Thanksgiving dinner at an alum’s house but the most enjoyable aspect of the week was their two big wins over Miami in overtime and Creighton.

The Colonels may be the next mid-major program on the rise.

“It was a business trip too, and we are very happy to come away with a win,” Lonergan said. “I think we’re definitely headed in the right direction. We’re in a great conference and we have a long way to go. We’re excited.”

The lows: Creighton, College of Charleston, Arizona State, Cal State Fullerton

Cal State Fullerton and the Big West Conference served as the hosts of the event with the first two rounds of play being held on campus at Titan Gymnasium but the hosts had one of the poorest performances of the week.

The Titans shot just .372 and went 0-3 in the event. New head coach Dietrich Taylor said he felt the team is still struggling to find their identity, which should be a hard-nosed defensive team.

“That’s what we’ve got to become,” Taylor said. “That’s what we’ll eventually become, one way or the other in order to give ourselves a chance because we’re not an offensive juggernaut. We’re not going to be able to put 100, 114, 80 points a game. That’s just not the way the game is played, particularly not for us.”
To make matters worse, Taylor inadvertently lost track of his all-access coaching credentials and after Sunday’s loss to Charleston, he was almost denied entrance back into the locker rooms. Taylor had to plead with the Honda Center security guard until he finally convinced him that he was, in fact, the head coach.

For Taylor and the Titans, it was not a banner week.

The strange: College of Charleston’s Canyon Barry, the youngest son of NBA Hall of Famer Rick Barry and the half-brother of Brent, Jon, Rick and Scooter, shoots free throws underhanded just like his dad. It;s effective — Canyon went 6-for-6 from the line during the Cougars’ three tournament games — but it’s just as awkward-looking as his dad’s underhand shot was.