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After 20-point lead cut to four, veterans take charge in opener

By Ed Graney


November 18, 2005




MATT HAGE / Associated Press

The Aztecs' Marcus Slaughter (right) looks for shooting room against Ivan Miskovic.



SDSU-Alaska Fairbanks box score



FAIRBANKS, Alaska – The nightmares of past blown leads revisited San Diego's basketball team for a frantic 10 second-half minutes last night.


Fortunately for the Aztecs, their veterans refused to lose this time.


SDSU opened its season by beating Division II Alaska Fairbanks 67-55 in a first-round game of the BP Top of the World Classic before 3,229 at the Carlson Center, beat a scrappy, play-until-the-final-horn team that cut a 20-point deficit to four with just over seven minutes remaining.


"When we got tired, our inability to guard showed and we became sloppy offensively," said Aztecs coach Steve Fisher. "But this was good for us. We'll be better served as this (tournament) moves on for having squandered that lead and still finding a way to catch our breath and finish."


The Aztecs next play the winner of last night's second game between Illinois-Chicago and Montana State tomorrow afternoon at 1 PST.


It was 43-23 with just over 16 minutes left last night.


It was 48-44 with 7:17 remaining.


It happens all the time in college basketball, but more so to SDSU. Shots – many of them long ones the Aztecs actually preferred Fairbanks attempt – that weren't going in early began falling for the Nanooks.


The hosts found a flow and rhythm. They gained more confidence with each basket. SDSU's problem was that it never answered during the run because it often didn't get off a shot, turning the ball over 14 times in the second half. It also didn't help that junior forward Marcus Slaughter sat with four fouls and watched the run unfold.


But then Fisher called timeout and those who have been around longest for SDSU took over. Brandon Heath hit a three to push the lead to seven, and that was followed by a Slaughter layup and free throw. Heath scored a game-high 23 and Slaughter finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds.


And then there was Trimaine Davis.


The senior forward has for the most part spent his time hustling away in anonymity as an Aztec, but began his final college season in a memorable fashion. Davis scored SDSU's first four points, had eight at halftime and finished with career highs in scoring (13) and blocks (three).


"For three years I've had the attitude to play my role and do what's best for this team," said Davis. "That's never going to change. I'm the old dog on this team and know exactly what (Fisher) wants from each player."


SDSU opened the season with a road victory for the first time since 1984-85 on the same night Richie Williams became the ninth true freshman to start an opener under Fisher. Williams gave a worthy effort at point guard against constant pressure, playing 31 minutes and finishing with seven points, four rebounds, four assists and four turnovers.


"Richie did a really good job for his inaugural Division I effort," said Fisher. "It's a lot different from high school. He's going to get a lot better and this experience will help him."


Say this for Fairbanks: It obviously scouted the Aztecs well. John Sharper is by far SDSU's best shooter and the senior guard was limited to two points on 1-of-5 shooting. Defenders rarely switched screens off him and were always present when he caught the ball and squared to shoot.


"Teams are going to go on runs," said Heath. "We can't get so careless with the ball when it happens. But we were able to adjust and the veterans stepped up."


The nightmare only lasted 10 minutes, but it seemed longer to SDSU.


After all, the Aztecs have been there many times over.

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