Air Force Holds Off the Aztecs : Basketball: SDSU's 60-58 loss is its 17th in a row and its 13th straight in Western Athletic Conference play.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

San Diego State finally played a game for the ages Thursday night.

Unfortunately for the Aztecs, it was on the wrong end of the historical spectrum.

They lost to Air Force, 60-58, and this is what will be recorded in the history books: It was SDSU's 17th consecutive loss, which ties a school record. And it was SDSU's 13th consecutive Western Athletic Conference loss, dating back to last season, which sets a WAC record.

SDSU (2-22, 0-12) had a chance to tie the game as time was running out, but guard Virgil Smith penetrated, missed a 12-footer from the left side of the lane with five seconds remaining, and Nelson Stewart couldn't quite hold onto the rebound as the last few seconds ticked away.

"Dang it," SDSU interim Coach Jim Harrick Jr. said as he walked into the postgame news conference. "I feel bad for them. They played their guts out in the second half to get back in it.

"We were just putrid in the first half."

Definitely. Early on, the Aztecs had about as much trouble getting off a shot as your average taxpayer has figuring out a 1040 form. SDSU trailed at halftime, 25-16, and shot only 29%.

"Oh, my gosh, 29%. That's awesome," Harrick said sarcastically as he reviewed the statistics sheet. "That'll win you some ballgames."

The 16 points were SDSU's lowest output for a half this season.

The cause? Hold your breath.

Overconfidence.

Seriously.

"It sounds stupid for a 2-21 team, but we were kind of overconfident," Harrick said.

Said center Joe McNaull: "We just came out sluggish. We thought we could just come onto the court and win."

But why in the world would a 2-21 team have that attitude?

"I don't know," McNaull said quietly. "I have no idea."

It was a bitter ending to what had been an optimistic day for Harrick, 27, the youngest Division I coach in the nation. Assured by Fred Miller, SDSU athletic director, that he is a legitimate candidate for the Aztec job, Harrick met with SDSU President Tom Day for the first time Thursday morning. Both Harrick and Miller, though, called it an "introductory" meeting rather than a serious interview.

"It was a great meeting," Harrick said. "He's a great man. I like him. He's straightforward and to the point. He says what's on his mind."

Said Miller: "The president just wanted to make sure the young guy felt confident in his role. There's no clandestine agenda to it."

Funny Miller should mention that word, "confident." Harrick said he chewed out the Aztecs at halftime for the first time since he took over Feb. 11.

"I jumped all over their case," he said. "I crawled all over them. You've got to play a full 40 minutes. That second-half effort would have gotten us the win, I think,"

Air Force (9-15, 3-9) led by as many as 15, 35-20, with about 17 minutes to play before SDSU trimmed the lead to one, 57-56, when McNaull completed a three-point play with 41 seconds left.

With SDSU pressing, Ray Barefield stole the ball, lost it and then committed a foul. Steve Haase made both free throws, but a driving Smith flipped up a running, four-footer to bring SDSU to within one again, 59-58, with 24 seconds left.

After a Dale French free throw and an SDSU timeout with 13 seconds left, the Aztecs attempted to execute a play was designed for Smith to penetrate the left side and, if the Falcons converged on him, for Smith to pass to either Stewart or Tony Clark. His 12-footer was off-line, and the Aztecs' fate was sealed.

Guard George Irvin led the Falcons with 16 points. Stewart led SDSU with 12. The Falcons had only four assists and were out-rebounded, 38-26, and still won.

Despite the lousy first half, it was the most competitive SDSU has been since a double-overtime loss to South Carolina on Dec. 21.

The Aztecs had help playing badly in the first half, though. It took nearly four minutes before either team could score. French hit a seven-foot jumper to break the ice about the time the crowd of 1,604 was beginning to wonder if there had ever been a double shutout in a basketball game. It came with 16:04 left in the half.

SDSU scored only two points in the game's first 6:39; seven in the first 9:16 and nine in the first 14:42.

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