Seen and heard
at Viejas Arena
The surest sign of the rise of the San Diego State basketball program can be seen all across campus. Hundreds, maybe thousands of signs, actually, walking billboards announcing a pride that was most certainly not there a decade ago.
Back then, the Aztecs were less of a draw. The famous story goes, in the darkest years — way back in 1999-2000, when the team went 5-23 in Steve Fisher’s first year as head coach — Fisher had to walk across campus with tickets in his pockets, imploring students to half-fill then-Cox Arena.
Things have changed.
Tickets to Viejas Arena are nearly impossible to come by – a few leftovers for Thursday’s much-hyped game against Arizona were released on Wednesday morning at 7 a.m., and there was already a lengthy line – and San Diego State shirts are sported in droves, with chests puffed out.
“The pride has definitely risen here,” said junior hospitality and tourism major Curtis Kent. “Ever since the exposure and the success and Kawhi (Leonard), it’s really taken off. Everybody is catching on; the games are fun as hell. Can’t beat the atmosphere.”
Just emerging from the dark days, the best entertainment wasn’t on the court, but in the student section. Within two years, Fisher had the Aztecs at 21-12 and in the NCAA Tournament, and San Diego State had a rabid fan base full of maniacs. A message board poster chastised the group, writing, “You guys think you’re the whole show,” and thus, “The Show” was born.Now the section rivals any in the country, loud and proud, smart and funny.
They wave massive signs — “Sean Miller Listens to Ke$ha” — stand throughout the game and wear costumes. There’s a guy in a monkey suit. Four buddies wear life preservers and face paint.
Kent is dressed as a nun and carries a wooden cross, and given the smell emanating from him, he is imbibed with multiple spirits.
“The sports and the atmosphere get people here,” said Kent, who hails from Chicago.
“The Show” let the Wildcats have it from before the opening tip.
Freshman forward Aaron Gordon got the loudest chorus of jeers in pre-game introductions. Then he proceeded to score 12 points in the first 11 minutes.
The section was at its loudest for Fisher’s introduction, though a Brandon Ashley airball on the first Arizona possession had the crowd deafening.
Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk took in the game, as did another former Aztec — and San Diego Padres manager — Bud Black. Sitting next to Black was former SDSU and current Washington Nationals star pitcher Stephen Strasburg, the No. 1 pick in the 2009 MLB draft.
Meanwhile, there was a sizable contingent of Arizona fans out to see the highest-ranked opponent at Viejas Arena since 2002, when the top-ranked Wildcats visited on Dec. 7.
Arizona basketball fans might recognize the press row WIFI password on Thursday night: Angelo Chol (case sensitive), after the Wildcats transfer who now plays for the Aztecs.
The big number
The Wildcats broke San Diego State’s full-court press with a flurry of movement, and then they converted nearly 54 percent from the field in the first half.
Heads above the rest
One of the hallmarks of the San Diego State student section is the use of the Big Head, which first made an appearance during the 2002-03 season. The best on Thursday: Neil Patrick Harris, Lindsay Lohan, Steve Urkel, Mrs. Doubtfire, Tom Selleck and Nicki Minaj.
Did you know?
Aaron Gordon’s father, Ed, was a teammate of Tony Gwynn’s on SDSU’s hoops teams in the early 1980s. Aaron’s older brother, Drew, played at UCLA before transferring to New Mexico.
Words of discouragement
Aztec fans handed out a pregame crib sheet to taunt the Wildcats, and some of the digs were straight out of Saturday Night Live.
On Brandon Ashley: “Enjoys pedicures.”
On Nick Johnson: “Likes to pretend he’s Captain America.”
On Kaleb Tarczewski: “Plays Mario Kart as Yoshi (which means he thinks he’s special and unique, but is actually the ultimate conformist).”
Tweet of the day
“Biggest problem for SDSU: Arizona is better at all of the Aztecs’ strengths. Bad matchup.” — @JeffEisenberg