LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Creighton and San Diego State have dreamed of being in this situation for years. And it's not the first time each team has stood in the other's way.
The sixth-seeded Bluejays and the fifth-seeded Aztecs are each seeking their first Final Four when they meet in Sunday's South Region final. Last year, they met much earlier in the NCAA Tournament — Creighton won 72-69 in overtime in the first round.
“It was a game they really controlled for 37 minutes, and then we had an incredible run at the end to get it to overtime and found a way to win it,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said Saturday. “So, besides a trip to the Final Four on the line, I’m sure they’ve been looking forward to this game as well.”
The Bluejays were one of the final eight teams in the tournament once before, in 1941, but it wasn't called the Elite Eight at the time because, well, there were only eight teams in the entire event.
After Friday's 86-75 win over No. 15 Princeton, the Bluejays (24-12) can truly be called Elite.
All San Diego State (31-6) had to do to advance was beat No. 1 overall seed Alabama.
The veteran-laden Aztecs are the first Mountain West Conference team to reach a regional final and believe they have more to prove after ousting the Crimson Tide.
“Nobody ever believes when you set big goals,” San Diego State forward Jaedon LeDee said after the game. “We believe, and that’s why we’re in the position we are, and just keep pushing.”
The teams have been together once since last year's first-round thriller. They shared a round-trip flight to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational last fall. But only one of them will be flying to Houston for the Final Four.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
San Diego State’s physical defense held the Crimson Tide to 32% shooting, blocked eight shots and made nine steals. On the other hand, the Aztecs shot just 38%, were outrebounded 52-48 and missed nine of 22 free throws against Alabama.
“That can be really costly in March for sure,” guard Darrion Trammell said. “But just staying consistent and running our offense, playing multiple sides, is something we can definitely work on. Make teams guard us on both sides of the floor to help our efficiency on offense is something that can take a step forward.”
The game pits Creighton sophomore forward Arthur Kaluma against brother Adam Seiko, a San Diego State senior guard. Kaluma described the upcoming meeting as a “surreal experience,” adding that both have come a long way since their previous meeting.
“He plays pretty good defense,” Kaluma said. “He is a good shooter. We can run him off the line, force him to take some tough 2s. Just try to contain him, you know, make sure he doesn’t get no open looks.”
Creighton entered Friday’s Sweet 16 game against Princeton ranked 41st nationally in shooting at 47%. The Bluejays shot 58.2% to overwhelm the Tigers.
San Diego State ranks 36th in field-goal defense at 41% and its last three opponents haven't topped 32% from the floor.
“They obviously just play really, really physical, and that can make up for some height at times,” 7-foot-1 Creighton center Ryan Kalkbrenner said of the Aztecs. “Going into a game like that, you just have got to know what you are getting yourself into and don’t be surprised when they hit you really hard or try to be super physical with you.
MORE TO ACHIEVE
Asked about earning his 300th victory with Creighton on Friday night, McDermott acknowledged all the steps to the milestone before quickly downplaying it.
“It’s 301 I’m worried about right now,” he said.
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