TUCSON, Ariz—Signs all over the University of Arizona campus read: "Bear Down", which is precisely what San Diego State had to do to beat Northern Colorado 68-50 and win the first NCAA Tournament game in school history at the Division I level.
On a day of upsets in the Big Dance, the Aztecs, the #2 seed in the West Region, overcame poor shooting and the feisty Big Sky Conference champions to advance to the third round and a date with 7th-seed Temple on Saturday.
The Aztecs (33-2) struggled to make easy baskets for most of the game, repeatedly missing lay-ups. They shot 32.4 percent in the first half and made just two of their first nine shots to start the second half.
Enter James Rahon. The Torrey Pines High School graduate came off the bench and provided a spark with two three-pointers and another long jumper. The Aztecs took off from there on a 16-3 run to make the thousands of Aztecs' fans feel a little more at ease.
Rahon, one of four Aztecs in double figures, finished with 12 points. Kawhi Leonard led the Aztecs with 21 points and 10 rebounds, Billy White added 12 points and a career-high 13 rebounds and Chase Tapley scored 14 points.
White and Leonard both recorded double-doubles, the 40th of his career for Leonard and fourth for White. White had a double-double against BYU in the Mountain West Conference championship game for his first back-to-back double-double. Leonard scored in double figures for the 13th straight game - a career high.
In its first NCAA Tournament appearance at the Division I level, #15 seed Northern Colorado (21-11) stayed close in the first half, patiently running its offense, and using most of the 35-second shot clock on nearly every possession. The Bears even took a 12-11 lead at the 13:33 mark.
Northern Colorado senior guard Devon Beitzel lived up to his nickname, "Little Jimmer." Beitzel, who wears the same #32 as BYU guard Jimmer Fredette, kept the Bears in the game with his 25 points. He scored the Bears' first 11 points to start the second half
In the early game, Temple beat 10th-seed Penn State in a nail-biter 66-64 on a leaning jumper from Juan Fernandez with .4 seconds on the clock.
Fernandez took the ball at the top of the key, dribbled to his right and appeared to be stopped by Penn State defender Tim Frazier with nowhere to go. As the clock ticked down, Fernandez spun away from the defender and made the shot to move Temple (26-7) into the third round.
"I was thinking about shooting a jump shot," Fernandez said. "But I killed my dribble and Frazier was right there.
"Like coach said, 'It was our time.' And we enjoy it. But we want to get that second win too. It's not over here."
"Before he shot, I kept thinking, 'Please hit this shot; please hit this shot,'" said Temple guard Ramone Moore. "I did not want to go to overtime."
Talor Battle, Penn State's all-time leading scorer, tied the game at 64 with a three-pointer from at least five feet behind the arc with 14.2 seconds to play.
Temple and San Diego State have played one time, on December 30, 1981 in San Diego. The Aztecs won 75-64.
"I haven't seen one ounce of tape on San Diego State," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. "One of our assistants saw eight tapes on San Diego State. So we'll talk about it now."
Three players scored in double figures for the Owls: Fernandez and Ramone Moore each had 23 points and Khalif Wyatt added 10 points. Lavoy Allen grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked four shots.
Temple finished second in the Atlantic 10 Conference and has won 13 of its last 15 games.
Penn State (19-15) was led by Battle who scored 23 points.