Saturday, March 14, 2009 | 8:45 p.m.
Few college basketball players will ever admit to reading what varied 'bracketologists' and analysts say about the NCAA tournament field this time of year.
San Diego State senior Lorrenzo Wade certainly falls into that category.
But that doesn't mean he has no clue what he's talking about. That was evident following the Aztecs' tough 52-50 loss to Utah in Saturday's Mountain West Conference title game at the Thomas & Mack Center.
The loss, coupled with teams like Southern Cal and Temple securing unexpected automatic bids into the field of 65 on Saturday, has the Aztecs right back where they began the tournament -- squarely on the dreaded bubble.
"We beat UNLV, which is a very tough task on their home court, we turned around and beat an AP Top 25 team in BYU and also turn around and lose to a Top 15 RPI team in Utah by two points on a neutral site," he said calmly, making a case for the 23-9 Aztecs. "So I think that speaks for itself. But again, I'm not on the committee, so we'll see how it goes."
He made his point in the same fashion he played all weekend in his hometown -- not too high, not too low. That, combined with averages of 36.7 minutes, 18.7 points and 6.7 rebounds in SDSU's three tournament games, made him as invaluable as anyone on the floor this weekend.
"He did everything we needed him to do," senior forward Ryan Amoroso said. "Not just scoring, but rebounding against UNLV and against BYU, stepping up and making shots. The thing that I was most impressed with was how his leadership stepped up this weekend. Zo showed me a lot of stuff that was very impressive. There's a lot of credit that needs to go to Lorrenzo Wade for this weekend."
Amoroso can attest to that better than maybe anyone.
During the first half of the Aztecs' 64-62 semifinal victory over BYU on Friday night, he fell to the ground after missing a shot in close. After BYU's Jackson Emery corralled the ball, he took off up the floor and tripped over Amoroso's head.
Amoroso was called for a foul despite being merely a road bump for the Cougar guard. He shot up and hounded the official who made the call, but Wade then stepped in, told his teammate to walk away, and had an adult-like, civilized conversation with the ref, which may have earned the Aztecs a so-called 'make-up call' moments later.
"He led our team, led by example, led by words and did what real good seniors do," SDSU coach Steve Fisher said.
To sum it up, Wade played the game of a true pro.
On top of producing when his team needed it most, he was a sticky defender, would orchestrate teammates on the offensive end even without the ball in his hand and even schmoozed the officials to try and land some calls in his team's favor.
He never got too high, never got too low, but instead remained on the most even of keels, making him essentially an extension of his veteran coach on the floor.
The fact that he remained somewhere in the middle after a game as frustrating as Saturday's says it all.
Wade pointed out that the Aztecs shot a better percentage than the Utes, won the rebounding battle and only had two more turnovers than their foes. But an up-and-down game turned into a stop-and-go affair during a foul-riddled second half, with Utah finishing the game with 10 foul calls to its credit and 27 free throw attempts, while SDSU was whistled 20 times and only had eight attempts at the stripe.
Instead of whining, he simply put those numbers out there and put the loss on his own shoulders, pointing out his 5-of-16 shooting performance.
"I guess it comes with confidence," Wade said. "I have a lot of confidence in my teammates. When you have confidence in the people that you're playing with, it makes your job a lot easier. It's very hard to stress when you have guys like Richie Williams, Kyle Spain, Ryan Amoroso, young fellas like Billy White."
After beating UNLV on Thursday afternoon, Wade also credited a good portion of his savvy to what he soaked in during his lone season spent at Louisville after graduating from Cheyenne High in 2004.
There, he learned under veterans such as Ellis Myles, Francisco Garcia and Taquan Dean as the Cardinals made their way to the 2005 Final Four, with Wade playing roughly 10 minutes per game.
Now, he can only hope for one more shot at the NCAA tournament, where he has yet to play as an Aztec.
On Thursday, the Aztecs felt that by ousting the Rebels, they'd taken at least one foot off of the bubble. By beating BYU, they figured it was a done deal.
But developments around the country -- such as Southern Cal coming out of nowhere to win the Pac-10 tourney and Temple taking the A-10 title -- make it unknown whether the Mountain West will get more than two bids.
Now, the rest of the Aztecs have to try to take Wade's stress-free approach, as they'll endure 24 hours that could make most college players rip their hair out before the tournament field is announced at 3 p.m. Sunday.
"I've done it for 40 years, and it's stressful for everybody," Fisher said. "You've given up the ball and somebody else is going to take that last shot, so we won't be able to make the call. But I'm always a half-filled glass, and I'm hopeful that we'll get in. Everybody can't get in, but I think with what we've done, we've got a real good case. But we'll see."