Steve Fisher is an old school Big Ten basketball coach, from the days of Bobby Knight and Gene Keady. You play man-to-man defense because zones are soft, a cop-out, the ultimate sign of weakness. Guess how Fisher and his Aztecs just won a Mountain West championship on Saturday night. “I used to drive a manual transmission car,” Fisher said recently when explaining why he spent 15 valuable minutes of practice on a 1-3-1 zone that Assistant Coach Justin Hutson had cooked up. “I switched to automatic when everyone else did. I can adjust.” Then again, what is that they say about desperate times and desperate measures? Tenth-ranked San Diego State beat No. 21 New Mexico 51-48 at Viejas Arena in the regular-season finale to claim the outright Mountain West title at 16-2 and the No. 1 seed in next week’s conference tournament. That they did it, maybe you expected that, considering they were playing in the same venue where they held the Lobos to 34 points a year ago. But this much no one could have: how they did it. Trailing 41-25 inside 12 minutes to go and helpless to stop New Mexico’s tandem of bigs, the Aztecs retreated to their bench for a media timeout. Fisher shrugged and spoke in numbers instead of words. “It looked like we were (dead) in the water and were going to revisit the loss in The Pit,” said Fisher, who team trailed by 24 and lost by 14 there two weeks earlier. “I said, ‘Let’s go to the 1-3-1. Let’s try it.’ I said, ‘What the heck, we better try something.’” So zone, gulp, it was. “He hates it,” said Polee, who had four steals, all in the second half. “But Steve Fisher is a great coach, and when he makes his mind up to do something, you know it’s going to work. We just had to switch things up. We needed more energy and intensity on the defensive end. And it paid dividends.” The Aztecs (27-3) had played it before this season – a possession here, a possession there – with little fanfare other than a few raised eyebrows among basketball cognoscenti. Steve Fisher? A zone? Really? But with the long, athletic Polee as the zone’s spear at midcourt, Josh Davis in the middle and Xavier Thames running along the baseline, the Lobos (24-6, 15-3) suddenly became lap dogs. They managed a single point – a Cameron Bairstow free throw – and had seven turnovers in their first 12 possessions against it. In all, the Aztecs closed the game on a 26-7 run, and that included a 3 at the buzzer by Kendall Williams after the result was no longer in doubt. So, really, 26-4 … with a conference title on the line … on Senior Night ... on national television ... against the nation’s No. 21 team that returned four starters from last season's Mountain West regular-season and tournament champions. The 16-point deficit was the largest overcome by SDSU this season and the largest in a second half since 1996-97. There are no stats for this, but Viejas Arena may have broken school records for decibel levels as well.
SDSU beats New Mexico for MW title
San Diego Union-Tribune | Mar 9