(The Sports Network)
Having finally recorded their first-ever win in the NCAA Tournament, the San Diego State Aztecs can now turn their attention to the Temple Owls in the third round of the West Regional at the McKale Center in Tucson, Arizona.
San Diego State, which is the second seed in the region, struggled a bit with 15th-seeded Northern Colorado in the second round on Thursday, but down the stretch the Aztecs pulled away to post the 68-50 victory. The win snapped a six-game losing streak in the NCAA Tournament by the Aztecs, a team which is expecting big things in this postseason as it continues to add to the school record for wins in a season, now with 33 in 35 opportunities.
San Diego State has now won six straight games and 13 of the last 14 outings in 2010-11, the only two defeats for the squad coming against fellow Mountain West Conference member BYU.
As for the Owls, the seventh seed this year, they had a bit of deja vu on Thursday as they took down in-state rival Penn State in a 66-64 final. Ironically, it was the first win in the NCAA Tournament for Temple since defeating the Nittany Lions a decade earlier, 84-72, in 2001. A close game throughout, the Owls needed a jumper by Juan Fernandez with 0.4 seconds to get them into the win column in the second round. Temple is now 32-28 all-time in the NCAA Tournament.
The Aztecs won the only previous meeting between these two teams back in 1980, a 75-64 triumph at the San Diego Sports Arena as part of the Cabrillo Classic. The winner of today's meeting advances to the round of sixteen and will clash with the winner of the Cincinnati/Connecticut battle.
Juan Fernandez tallied 23 points, although he shot just 2-of-7 from three- point range, and hit the biggest shot of his career in the final moments to put the Owls into the win column two days ago. Matching Fernandez in the scoring department was Ramone Moore who converted 10-of-16 shots from the field but also struggled beyond the arc (1-of-5). Khalif Wyatt tacked on 10 points and Lavoy Allen came up with 11 rebounds and four blocked shots in an effort to offset his mere three points. Luckily for the Owls, Penn State's Jeff Brooks left the game early with an injury and that helped to open up the action in the paint. It is not uncommon to see Moore's name at the top of the scoring chart for the Owls these days, considering he is the leading scorer overall for the program with 15.2 ppg, but it is surprising to find Fernandez with such a solid effort given that he has been shooting only 35.7 percent from the floor over the course of his 29 appearances in 2010-11. Temple will need Allen (11.6 ppg, 8.5 rpg) to again hit the glass hard against the Aztecs, but that won't be an easy task given how physical the front line is for SDSU this year.
Kawhi Leonard scored the first eight points of the game for the Aztecs two days ago, converting a pair of three-pointers in just over two minutes, but Northern Colorado hung around until the second half when SDSU was finally able to gain some separation. Leonard finished with yet another double-double with 21 points and 10 rebounds, showing his versatility by hitting 3-of-5 shots beyond the arc, the team finishing 9-of-22 out on the perimeter. Billy White bullied his way into the paint for a double-double of his own with 12 points and 13 boards, adding three steals, while Chase Tapley and James Rahon contributed 14 and 12 points, respectively. D.J. Gay, the winningest player in school history, tallied just five points on 2-of-11 shooting from the floor, so it was important that Rahon came off the bench to supply a spark. While Gay might be the one who keeps the team together on the floor, averaging 11.1 ppg and handing out about three assists per contest, Leonard provides the flash for the group with his 15.6 ppg and 10.6 rpg. Giving Leonard help on the inside is Malcolm Thomas with averages of 11.3 points and 8.1 rebounds this season, his 71 blocked shots causing opponents to think twice about driving to the basket.
The problem for the Owls in this matchup is that they don't have the power to hold off San Diego State in the paint, and that will prove costly. As long as Temple can dictate the tempo and hit perimeter shots it will remain in contention, but once Leonard, White and Thomas get into the act the Owls won't have a prayer.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: San Diego State 65, Temple 57