San Diego State rattles Florida Atlantic, rallies to make first title game

While the seeds and history may suggest they’re a shocker to be here, both Florida Atlantic and San Diego State have proven they belong.

Both the Owls and Aztecs are making their Final Four debuts in a season that includes other first-round contests. FAU, which plays in an arena with a capacity of less than 3,000, has never been ranked before and has been to the NCAA Tournament just once — a No. 15 finish in 2002. But in 2022-23 they were 35-3.

But Dusty May, in his fifth season, posted a winning record each year before the Owls reached historic heights. FAU is 35-3 and reached No. 19 in the AP poll in early February. The Owls won both the C-USA regular season and tournament titles before finishing as the No. 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament. From there, the close games began (wins by 1, 8, 7 and 3). But success in all.

Offensively, the Owls are top-40 in points per game (78) and top-15 in 3-pointers (9.6 per game). Jonelle Davis leads the way with 13.9 points per game while adding 5.5 boards. Vladislav Goldin averaged 10.3 points and 6.6 rebounds on 62.7 percent shooting. On defense, FAU is top-20 in FG percentage as opponents are shooting just 40.2 percent.

San Diego State, on the other hand, comes in at 31-6 after sweeping the Mountain West regular season and conference tournaments.

With San Diego State reaching the Sweet 16 in 2011 and 2014 and going 30-2 in the 2019-20 Covid-interrupted season, the Aztecs have more history of success than FAU in March.

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Brian Dutcher is in his fifth season as coach. Longtime assistant Steve Fisher has kept the Aztecs rolling and maintaining its reputation as a great defensive program. San Diego State is holding opponents to just 40 percent from the field — a top-40 ranking nationally — and shooting 27.9 percent on 3-pointers. That tied Houston for the second-best mark in the nation, behind Tennessee’s 26.5.

Matt Bradley’s 12.5 points per game pace the Aztecs, with no one else averaging double figures. But others saw Darian Trammell’s 21 points against No. 1 Alabama in the Sweet 16 as No. 6 Lamont Butler had 18 points on 11 shots in an Elite Eight win over Creighton.

“It’s very similar to competing against us in practice,” FAU coach May said Friday morning. “They’ve played four NCAA Tournament games. They’re the four leading scorers. So they’re like looking in the mirror and watching you. We don’t know who our leading scorer is. But when you’re the leading scorer, you get more attention and help other guys win.

“Once again, it’s a testament to the selflessness of those guys and their sacrifice for the good of the team. So we’re ready for it because we see it every day. It’s like looking in the mirror.”

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