Dec. 8, 2010
BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) - When San Diego State was ranked for the first time when the preseason poll came out, coach Steve Fisher told his players to wait until Dec. 9 to see how good they really were.
How does the best start in the 90-year history of the school sound, coach?
Kawhi Leonard had 20 points and D.J. Gay scored all 14 of his points in the second half to give No. 14 San Diego State its ninth straight win to open the season, 77-57 over California on Wednesday night.
"That means we've not fallen on our face, which sometimes happens," Fisher said. "You get rated and then you don't live up to what expectations are held by others. Our town, they are a bit unrealistic in terms of what they think we are. They think we could probably play the Celtics and if Kevin Garnett would not play we'd have a chance."
While the Celtics might be a bit too much, the Aztecs (9-0) have won on the road already at the teams that won the Pac-10 and West Coast Conference regular season titles last season, having also beaten Gonzaga.
The Aztecs surpassed their 1984-85 and 2006-07 teams that opened the season with eight straight wins and gave Fisher his best start in 20 full seasons as a head coach.
San Diego State wore down the Golden Bears (5-3) with their athleticism in the second half to win a road game against a Pac-10 school for the first time since December 1982 at Oregon. They had lost 20 straight road games to Pac-10 teams and hadn't beaten any team on the road from one of the six big conferences since knocking off Northwestern in December 1996.
"We've proven that we have a very good team," Gay said. "The potential for this team is endless. We're going to be as good as we want to be and as hard as we work. We're just enjoying this ride and not ready for it to end."
The Aztecs took control of the game with a 15-2 run that began shortly after Cal big man Markhuri Sanders-Frison briefly went to the bench midway through the second half with a right leg injury.
Gay started the spurt with two 3-pointers, James Rahon added two baskets and then Leonard hit a 3 from the corner to give San Diego State its first double-digit lead.
Billy White's uncontested jam on a breakaway sent Cal coach Mike Montgomery into a stomping tirade as he lashed out at his team during a timeout for failing to get back on defense. The Aztecs led 58-44 at that point, which proved to be too large a hurdle for the Bears to overcome.
"We just needed to make more hustle plays and that's what we did," San Diego State guard Chase Tapley said. "We needed to make our energy better."
White added another breakaway tomahawk dunk with to make it 67-52 just over 4 minutes to go, generating big cheers from the sizable contingent of Aztecs fans who made the trip north to watch their team beat the defending Pac-10 regular season champions.
This version of the Bears isn't nearly as good, having lost Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher, Theo Robertson and Jamal Boykin to graduation. But Cal was coming off a win at Iowa State and had also knocked off No. 21 Temple last month.
But they proved to be no match for the Aztecs, who also got 15 points from James Rahon, 10 from White and shot 71 percent in the second half.
The first half was far from an artistic masterpiece with White's airball on the opening possession for San Diego State an omen for things to come.
Rahon, a transfer from nearby Santa Clara, made three straight 3-pointers midway through the half as the Aztecs took advantage of a long Cal shooting drought to turn a five-point deficit into a six-point lead.
"They kicked it out three times for wide open 3s," Montgomery said. "It was lost vision. We tried the zone. They have the reputation for not being a great zone team but they found the open guy and we didn't cover very well."
The Bears missed 13 straight shots over a span of more than 10 minutes before Kamp's tip-in ended the 13-2 run for San Diego State. Long scoring droughts are not new for the Bears, who were held to five points in the first half of a loss to Notre Dame last month.
This wasn't nearly as bad even though Cal had as many turnovers as baskets with seven and shot just 24.1 percent in the opening half. The Bears trailed only 28-26 at the break when Gutierrez made three free throws after being fouled by Mehdi Cheriet on a 3-pointer with 5.6 seconds to go.