Aztecs confident in team, head coach ahead of NCAA tournament play

SAN DIEGO -- After missing out on the NCAA tournament the past two seasons, the Aztecs earned their seventh trip to the big dance in the past nine years.

Eleventh-seeded San Diego State will face sixth-seed Houston in the first round Thursday in Wichita, Kansas and the team has sky-high confidence.

Four weeks ago, the Aztecs had a record of 5-7 in the Mountain West conference and the thought of playing post-season basketball in March didn't seem realistic. Since then, they've won nine straight, ultimately proving they have the best team in the conference.

"Like I keep saying, we were just tired of losing," said guard Devin Watson. "We didn't want to lose anymore and we wanted to really do something special. We knew we had the potential all along and we just wanted to win."

"We knew all along that we were the best team in the Mountain West conference so I think that for itself just speaks to our confidence level and how we feel as a team," said forward Matt Mitchell.

They also have confidence in first-year head coach Brian Dutcher, who's experience coaching in the NCAA tournament spans nearly three decades, including a national championship run as an assistant at Michigan in 1989.

"It gives us and myself a lot of confidence knowing that coach Dutch has been there before and done the things that he's done and we got a lot of players on this team who have a lot of confidence so it's kind of a win-win situation," said Watson.

The Aztecs will also rely on senior Trey Kell. After battling injury and sickness through the season, Kell finished Sunday's championship game against New Mexico with a career-high 28 points, bringing an energy the team had lacked.

"He's playing at his peak efficiency right now and with that being said, I still don't think he's 100 percent healthy," said Dutcher. "I mean I think his health is good but his conditioning is still working its way there."

The Aztecs say sixth-seed Houston brings a physicality they haven't faced in some time, a challenge they look forward to overcoming.

"The game is the game in the end and it'll be left in the players' hands," said Dutcher. "The coaches will do everything they can do and then the players either make the coach look really good or really bad."

"We're playing very hard and aggressive but we're also playing smart," said Watson. "We're not just out there running around with our heads cut off, we're playing hard and aggressive but we're also playing smart."

Smart got them to the tournament and they hope it will keep them dancing beyond Thursday.