The Spokane River cuts through downtown with some dramatic drops in elevation, and with the recent snowmelt the waterfalls are churning. San Diego State coach Steve Fisher had the bus driver stop to look as they crossed over them on the way to practice Wednesday, and he joked that he’d like to take his team whitewater rafting.

It would be a smoother ride than what happened just across the river in Spokane Arena on Thursday night.

“I could talk about all the things we didn’t do,” Fisher said. “The one thing we did was have more points at the end, and that’s all that matters now.”

“Survive and advance,” Associate Head Coach Brian Dutcher said.

The fourth-seeded Aztecs beat 7-foot-5 center Sim Bhullar and New Mexico State 73-69 in overtime in the NCAA Tournament, taking a 14-point lead early in the second half, blowing all but two of it, taking another double-digit lead, blowing all of that and then nearly blowing a late lead in overtime as well. It was their 30th win of the season and fourth all-time in the tournament, and the basketball gods, cruel devils that they are, made them sweat for it despite never trailing.

But the reward for their persistence and their patience – tip-off was more than an hour later than scheduled – is a 3:10 p.m. game Saturday against the 12th-seeded North Dakota State Bison, who became March’s instant darlings with an 80-75 win against Oklahoma on this same floor earlier in the evening, also in overtime.

The Aztecs went to the NCAA Tournament a year ago, won their first game and got to play 15th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast two days later. And lost.

They dreamed of another shot at Cinderella.

They’re about to get it.

“I know,” Fisher said of the Bison, “when they came into the tunnel as I was finishing up talking to the team, you could hear them from the court to the locker room. They were as excited as a team could be, and they should have been.

“I don’t think they care that they’re a 12 seed and that we’re a 4 seed. They’re going to come out guns blazing.”

The post-game mood in the SDSU locker room was euphoric as well, just tinged with copious amounts of relief. With 50 seconds left in regulation, the Aztecs led by seven. With five seconds to go, it was tied.

It took five points each from Xavier Thames and Dwayne Polee II in overtime to avert what would have ranked among the most wrenching losses in school history – in San Diego sports history, even – as well as ended their 118-game win streak when leading with five minutes to go in regulation.

“The kind of game you’ve got to win if you’re going to advance in this tournament,” Dutcher said. “No one has an easy path.”

The key play came with 15 seconds left in regulation, with the Aztecs up 60-57 and inbounding after an Aggies basket. Josh Davis passed to Thames, who bobbled the ball out of bounds for his only turnover in a career-high 43 minutes.