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March 24, 2013Roughly thirty minutes before San Diego State tipped off against Oklahoma on Friday evening, the Aztecs sat huddled around a television in the locker room, glued to the Florida Gulf Coast - Georgetown game.
"We were just tuned to the TV until the very last second, and when we saw the upset, we were like, we've got to focus," guard Chase Tapley said. "Jamaal (Franklin) said let's worry about us right now, we'll focus on Oklahoma and tomorrow we've got Florida Gulf Coast."
SDSU took care of business against Oklahoma, just like the No. 15 seed Eagles dispatched second-seeded Georgetown in the biggest upset of the NCAA Tournament's opening round, and now the Aztecs must turn their attention to Sunday's game with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line.
But what do the Aztecs know about Florida Gulf Coast, a team located at the exact opposite side of the country that is in only its second year of eligibility for the NCAA Tournament?
After watching the Eagles upset the Hoyas, "We know enough," said forward DeShawn Stephens.
"We know that they're real fast in transition," Franklin said. "They're a team that likes to get up and down. They score fairly good in half court, but obviously in full court they're one of the best fast break teams that we've probably seen in the country. They push the ball, have full speed and they're always looking to score, and tip dunk it or rebound the ball offensively."
"We just know they're playing with high confidence right now, like they can beat anybody in the country," Tapley added. "We've just got to match their intensity and make plays."
SDSU head coach Steve Fisher quipped that he probably knows more about FGCU than any other coach in America since he's owned a condo in nearby Fort Myers Beach since 1990 and has been on the campus.
"They're good," Fisher said. "I think it's legitimate. If we were playing a shirts and skins game with all 64 teams and you brought all the teams out there and watched them warm up, you'd be hard pressed to say, well, this is a team that's not supposed to win. They're good. They're talented. They're well coached. And they played terrific last night."
FGCU had no trouble scoring against one of the stingiest defenses in the country on Friday, and the Eagles will try to use more of the same alley oop-throwing, long three-point-shooting, free-wheeling offensive magic against the Aztecs.
The thing is, SDSU has the athleticism to keep up with the Eagles on defense, and has a similar free-flowing offensive style that can turn this matchup into an up-and-down scorefest.
"I think that Georgetown is more of a slow paced team, and they probably like to slow the game down." FGCU guard Sherwood Brown said. "San Diego State is kind of like a team like us, they like to get out and run, and they shoot a lot of shots in transition just like we do."
"Yeah, Georgetown, they're methodical," Eagles forward Eddie Murray added. "They want to slow down the pace, whereas we want to get out and run. If I had to guess tomorrow night there's going to be a lot of transition buckets, it'll be a fairly high scoring game, and it's going to come down to whatever team plays better defense because both teams want to get into kind of a track meet."
Therein lies the key to winning this game: defense.
FGCU is 24-0 when holding its opponents to 76 points or less this season. When the Eagles' opponent scores 77 points or more, FGCU's record drops to 1-10. SDSU averages 69.2 points per game, so will need to shoot better from the field, get buckets in transition, crash the boards and force turnovers to get extra possessions.
On the other hand, the Aztecs -- who held the Sooners to under 40 percent shooting and 16 points below their season average -- must also find a way to slow down the fast-breaking Eagles, something Georgetown could not do.
"I caught myself several times last night in the Oklahoma game yelling, get back, get back, get back," Fisher said. "So we've got to get back. We can't give them an inordinate number of run outs where I'm looking up and they're 3-on-2 or 4-on-2 or 4-on-3 and they have those trail guys running in from mid court to tip dunk one in or get a lob for a basket. They run. They run very effective. You can tell that they work at that. This doesn't just happen. This is not just pickup game on the street.
"[This] is a well coached, well defined style of play that they're good at. They like to play that way, and they are successful at it. I'm impressed. We have to do a good job of getting back. They're probably one better than any team we will have played all year."
While the Aztecs have been to the Sweet 16 before, FGCU players know that history is stacked against them. After all, fifteen seeds are 0-6 all-time in the Round of 32.
But hey, that means there's nothing to lose.
"Honestly I would prefer to be in the position we are," Murray said. "The group of guys we have here, there's really no pressure on us. Everything we do from here on out, nothing is really expected of us, but we expect it of ourselves. All the pressure is on the teams we're going to be playing from here on out, so I really like the position we're in."
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