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With all five starters returning this year, the Aztecs couldn't find many teams willing to play at Viejas, and the athletic department doesn't have the budget to pay more than a few teams to visit. (It also can't afford to charter flights.) So San Diego State played eight nonconference games away from home—the most of any Top 25 team except BYU—and won them all, including a 79--76 thriller over then No. 11 Gonzaga, which had lost just four games out of 81 at the McCarthey Center, and a 77--57 thumping of Cal, the Aztecs' first win on a Pac-10 floor in 28 years.
"When you return everybody from a team that won 25 games, it's harder to schedule games," says assistant Brian Dutcher. "Maybe that's why, in the end, we'll have the kind of year we want to have, because we got tested."
The biggest test still awaits. "I know every program is measured on, Did you win in the tournament?" says Fisher. "If we don't, this will still have been a great year. But if we want the city of San Diego talking about the 2010--11 team 10 years from now, we have to win in the tournament."
It will be a surprise if the Aztecs don't. After they destroyed his team on Feb. 8, Utah coach Jim Boylen called them "a Final Four team."
The thought of that possibility, and the recognition that there are no truly dominant teams this season, momentarily tilts Fisher off-keel. "Why not us?" he asks, sitting in his spacious sun-soaked office. "Really, why not us?"
On Montezuma Mesa, crazier things have already happened.
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