The San Diego State men’s basketball team has a handful of players with connections to the Bay Area. UConn has its own local band.
Now those players, and the rest of the Aztecs and Huskies teams, will now play on college basketball’s biggest stage.
San Diego State defeated Florida Atlantic 72-71 in Houston on Saturday as Lamont Butler’s buzzer-beater put the Aztecs into the national championship game for the first time in school history.
On Monday, they will take on a UConn team that has destroyed every opponent in its path for the past three weeks, including the Miami Hurricanes, who beat the Huskies 72-59 in the other national semifinal.
UConn (30-8) will be vying for its fifth national title since 1999, but their first since coach Dan Hurley was hired five years ago to revive the storied program.
The Huskies are favored over a San Diego State team that lost to Saint Mary’s 68-61 on December 10 in a neutral field game in Phoenix, but has since gone 25-3. The Gaels were defeated by UConn 70-55 in the second round of the tournament on March 19.
“We’ve always been down,” said San Diego State’s Matt Bradley, a Cal transfer who had 21 points in Saturday’s win. “But the most important thing we always do is get back up and keep fighting.”
Bradley, who played with the Golden Bears from 2018 to 2021, is SDSU’s leading scorer with an average of 12.7 points per game. But Marin City native Darrion Trammell has been an offensive catalyst for the Aztecs in the NCAA Tournament, averaging 15.3 points in wins over Furman, Alabama and Creighton.
Trammell, who attended St. Ignatius High School in San Francisco, had 21 points to lead the Aztecs to a 71-64 victory over the top-seeded Crimson Tide in their Sweet 16 game on March 24.
The Aztecs (32-6) also have Keshad Johnson, a six-foot-tall senior forward from Oakland who has averaged 7.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and more than 22 minutes per game this season. Johnson, who attended San Leandro High School, had five rebounds on Saturday.
Demarshay Johnson Jr., a redshirt freshman who attended Salesian, has played in eight games this season, but at 6-foot-10 and 235 pounds, figures to be a big part of San Diego State’s future. Defense and rebound are big reasons San Diego State has come this far.
One of the players who brought in UConn’s Hurley last year was guard Joey Calcaterra, who attended Marin Catholic High School and is from Novato.
Calcaterra, who played four seasons in San Diego of the West Coast Conference before moving to Connecticut, has averaged 5.8 points per game this season.
While players from the Bay Area Division I schools all watch from home, a few others with local ties will be on college basketball’s biggest stage at NRG Stadium on Monday.
“They’re one of the best teams in the country,” Hurley said of San Diego State. “And I think it’s fitting that we’ve both earned our way into this title game.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.