SAN DIEGO—Stepping off the bus at 3 a.m. Wednesday morning with a cut-down basketball net draped around her neck, Aztecs senior guard Jene' Morris wore a huge smile. The after-effects of a 64-55 win over West Virginia and a trip to the NCAA women's basketball tournament Sweet 16 for the first time in school history.
"Oh, we were excited," Morris said. "We were crying, screaming, jumping, dancing, all emotions at once. We said the best day of our lives was when we won the Mountain West Conference tournament and this is the second best day of our lives right now."
As much as any Aztec player, Morris made this day possible. She scored a combined 59 points in upset wins over host Texas and third-seeded West Virginia in the sub-regional games in Austin, TX. Morris quickly gave credit to head coach Beth Burns.
In her second stint at state, Burns has led the Aztecs to back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances and an unprecedented two victories in this year's tournament.
"Coach Burns had a dream a few years back and she believed in us when no one else did," Morris said. "The team stuck to that belief and worked hard over the years and we've gotten better each year and it really proves that hard work does pay off."
"It's been a remarkable experience that has changed the lives of our students, but we're not done yet," Burns said. "They are the first San Diego State University basketball team to go to the Sweet 16."
Technically, the Aztecs have advanced to the final 16 before. But that was in 1985, when the field had just 32 teams, and before the it was called the Sweet 16.
"Just winning the game and going into the sweet 16 is just amazing," said junior center Paris Johnson. "It's one of our dreams and it's coming true and I'm excited."
Up next for the Aztecs: Duke, a team ranked sixth in the country and seeded second in the Memphis region. The Blue Devils have advanced to the Sweet 16 in 12 of the past 13 seasons. But after pulling off two upsets already, the Aztecs say they won't be intimidated by Duke's strong history.
"At this point we're fearless," Morris said. "We've been the underdog the last two games and we're the lowest seeded team (No. 11) going into it so we're just going to in there and play our best and give it all we've got."
The Aztecs and Blue Devils tip off Saturday morning in Memphis at approximately 11:30 PDT. Their game follows the other game in the Memphis Region between No. 1 seed Tennessee and and Np. 4 seed Baylor.