Underdogs? Cinderella? Aztecs focusing on history

Mar 26, 2010 - 9:20 PM MEMPHIS, Tenn.(AP) -- The San Diego State Aztecs are underdogs on paper as the last double-digit seed still playing in the NCAA tournament.

They're sure not acting like it.

Coach Beth Burns joked Friday that her Aztecs were busy playing Pictionary in the locker room before practice. The 11th-seeded Aztecs play No. 2 seed Duke in the Memphis Regional semifinal on Saturday, and their goal is trying to become the first double-digit seed to reach a regional final since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1994.

"I am not a good listener, and everybody is telling us we shouldn't be here and we are still here. We play 40 minutes, and we don't have to play anybody 10 times, just once. We are confident and respectful of the talent in this region because it is remarkable. That is what we are working toward," Burns said.

Aztecs senior guard Jene Morris said right now all the pressure is on the Blue Devils, a program that has been to a regional final seven times in the past 12 years but lost in the second round last year to Michigan State.

"That is helping us. We are the lowest seed, but we have just as good of chance as everybody else. We are just going out and giving it our all and continuing to build the momentum we have built thus far," Morris said.

That is considerable. The Aztecs (23-10) have won eight straight as they rolled through to their first Mountain West Conference tournament championship. Then they opened the NCAA tournament by beating Texas on its home court and downed third-seeded West Virginia 64-55 to reach the round of 16 for the first time since 1985.

They are the first double-digit seed to go this far since Marist in 2007 as the No. 13 seed and just the 12th in 16 years.

Not bad for a program Burns came back five seasons ago to rebuild only to stumble out 0-16 in conference play her first season.

"We don't have anybody to emulate. We don't look to our juniors and seniors or the banners. The coaches try to give direction on how to be and how we try to be is tough and confident. We have aspired to do that and earn respect," Burns said.

San Diego State also has gotten better when it matters most.

The Aztecs averaged 27.5 free throws in each of their NCAA wins, and a team that came in ranked 241st nationally from outside the arc has hit 52 percent from 3-point range (13 of 25) through the first two games. Senior Quenese Davis, the MWC tournament MVP, scored 19 against West Virginia, and senior Jene Morris had 27 in that game.

"Two outstanding, outstanding guards, and they've been attacking and shooting the very best of their careers at this time," Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "That's pretty nice timing from that standpoint. They're an exciting team. It's important we play good defense."

McCallie said she doesn't believe seeds matter at this point in the tournament, not with what is on the line for both teams.

"It doesn't take a lot to motivate. Our players know how good the teams are and are excited to play," she said.

Duke (29-5) will counter the Aztecs' backcourt with junior guard Jasmine Thomas, who has scored in double figures 30 times this season. The Blue Devils are experienced with their Atlantic Coast Conference regular season and tournament titles, balanced with five players scoring at least seven points a game and tenacious on defense.

They rank second nationally with 13.3 steals per game and eighth in rebounding margin.

McCallie believes her Blue Devils learned well from their 60-52 win over LSU in the second round.

And these Blue Devils are pretty excited to be here too. They lost to Texas A&M 77-63 in their last regional semifinal in 2008 and to Rutgers 53-52 in 2007.

"It's a lot of fun to come back," Duke senior center Joy Cheek said. "We were here two years ago, and that's what I remember a lot, getting beaten by Texas A&M. We haven't been past this round, so it's going to be a lot of fun to hopefully get past San Diego State."

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