Tough test for UT

Tennessee tends to play its best as a decided underdog. So does its first-round foe in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

That should make for an interesting evening when the sixth-seeded Vols (25-8) face 11th-seeded San Diego State (25-8) Thursday in the Midwest Regional at Providence, R.I.

Tennessee is the only team to beat the No. 1 and 2 overall seeds in this year's tournament, having dispatched top-ranked Kansas 76-68 on Jan. 10 and having beaten second-ranked Kentucky 74-65 on Feb. 27.

San Diego State rises to the occasion against superior foes, too. The Aztecs handed Steve Alford's 29-4 New Mexico team - ranked eighth nationally and seeded third in the NCAA Tournament's East Region - two of its four losses this season.

San Diego State beat New Mexico 74-64 Jan. 5 at San Diego, lost 88-86 in overtime Feb. 6 at Albuquerque, then won the rubber match 72-69 Friday in the Mountain West Conference tournament semifinals at Las Vegas. The Aztecs sealed their invitation to The Dance by beating UNLV 55-45 in Saturday's MWC finals to earn the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Tourney MVP Kawhi Leonard projects to be a matchup nightmare for the Vols. The 6-7, 225-pound freshman scored 16 points, grabbed 21 rebounds (7 off the offensive glass) and made 8 of 8 foul shots in the final 2:00 in the conference title game. For the season he leads the Aztecs in points (12.8 per game), rebounds (9.9 per game) and steals (45). He shoots a solid 46.0 percent from the field.

San Diego State's other starters are 6-9, 215-pound junior Malcolm Thomas, 6-8, 235-pound junior Billy White, 6-3, 220-pound senior Kelvin Davis and 6-0, 167-pound junior D.J. Gay.

Thomas averages 11.0 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, with a team-best 50 blocked shots. He's hitting 54.8 percent of his shots.

White averages 11.2 points per game and shoots a sizzling 58.8 percent from the field.

Davis, granted a sixth year of eligibility after missing 2008-09 with Hodgkins Lymphoma, averages 6.5 points per game.

Gay, averages 10.3 points per game and leads the team with 107 assists. He's a better shooter from 3-point range (59 of 154, 38.3 percent) than he is from inside the arc (45 of 130, 34.6 percent).

San Diego State is rugged on the backboards, outrebounding its foes by an average of seven per game. The Aztecs posted a 37-26 rebound margin in Saturday's defeat of UNLV.

One area the Vols may be able to exploit in Thursday's game at Providence, R.I., is San Diego State's lack of depth. The Aztecs played just three reserves a total of 26 minutes in their conference title game. Brian Carlwell (6-11, 297 junior) played 10 minutes but failed to register a point or rebound. Chase Tapley (6-2, 205 freshman) played 8 minutes and grabbed one rebound. Tyrone Shelley (6-6, 225 sophomore) produced 5 points and a rebound in 8 relief minutes.

San Diego State is under the direction of Steve Fisher, one of only seven NCAA coaches to win an NCAA championship and an NIT championship. The others are Bob Knight, Adolph Rupp, Joe B. Hall, Al McGuire, Dean Smith and Jim Calhoun.

Now in his 11th year in San Diego, Fisher built his reputation at Michigan, where he recruited the heralded "Fab Five" that led the Wolverines to back-to-back NCAA title games in 1991 and '92.

Fisher will be making his 10th appearance in The Dance, having guided Michigan to seven tourneys and San Diego State to two (2002 and 2006). He is 20-8 in NCAA Tournament games to date with three Final Fours on his resume'.

After being fired by Michigan, Fisher spent a year out of coaching, then assisted with the NBA's Sacramento Kings in 1998-99. He took over at San Diego State in 1999-2000, going 5-23 in Year 1 but 14-14 in Year 2 and 21-12 in Year 3.

Following mediocre records in 2002-03, 2003-04 and 2004-05, he has strung together five consecutive 20-win seasons - going 24-9, 22-11, 20-13, 26-10 and 25-8 thus far this year.

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