San Diego State faces familiar foe Creighton with Final Four spot at stake

San Diego State players gather on the court during Friday's win over Alabama.
San Diego State players gather on the court during Friday’s win over Alabama in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. The Aztecs face Creighton on Sunday.
(K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

San Diego State and Creighton were in the Maui Invitational last November. They decided to share a charter flight there and back.

SDSU coach Brian Dutcher and Creighton’s Greg McDermott sat across the aisle from one another, watching film on their laptops, chatting about their teams, offering advice about their opponents, musing about maybe meeting in the championship game.

“And then,” McDermott said, “we would be OK with one of us winning and one of us losing.”

They never did, the Bluejays losing to Arizona in the final and the Aztecs to Arkansas in the third-place game, then spent the flight home in the same seats agonizing over the what-ifs. The plane landed in San Diego to let off the Aztecs contingent before continuing to Omaha, Neb. Dutcher and McDermott said their farewells and uttered the obligatory, “See you down the road.”

See you, indeed.

Hoping to avenge its loss to South Carolina in November, UCLA instead sees its season end in a 59-43 Sweet 16 loss in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.

March 25, 2023

They didn’t play in Maui. But they’ll play at Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center on Sunday (11:20 a.m. PDT, CBS) with even higher stakes. The winner goes to the NCAA tournament’s Final Four in Houston, a first for either school.


“Pretty ironic,” McDermott said.

“I never thought we’d be playing them here,” Dutcher quipped, “or I would have tried to steal a few play calls off his computer.”

The schools are 1,300 miles apart, one public, the other private. One on the Pacific Coast, the other in middle America. One backed by mountains, the other by cornfields. One bordering a foreign country, the other bordering South Dakota.

Their basketball programs, though, share a kinship in the figurative and literal sense. They both have mid-major roots, Creighton in the Missouri Valley before joining the Big East, SDSU in the Mountain West with aspirations of joining the Pac-12. They also have brothers on each roster, Aztecs sixth-year senior guard Adam Seiko and Bluejays sophomore forward Arthur Kaluma.

Crieghton coach Greg McDermott laughs with Arthur Kaluma during a news conference Friday.
(K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

And they have history. A rich, complicated history.

Despite belonging to disparate conferences that rarely intersect, this is their fifth meeting since 2011. That year, Creighton came from 17 down to win 85-83 at Viejas Arena and end SDSU’s 27-game home win streak. In the 2013 Wooden Legacy, the unranked Aztecs trailed 14-2 before unleashing a 49-18 run and knocking off the No. 20 Bluejays. In 2019, SDSU won by 31 at the Las Vegas Invitational.

And last year, well, the Aztecs don’t like to talk about last year.

They met in the opening game of the NCAA tournament in Fort Worth, Texas. SDSU led by 14 in the first half and by nine with 2½ minutes left and an already depleted Bluejays roster down to seven scholarship players. Four turnovers and a missed free throw later, they were in overtime and the Bluejays were winning 72-69.


“It haunted me all summer,” said senior Matt Bradley, who missed the front end of a one-and-one with seven seconds left in a tie score. “When all those things are taking place … they seem really bad in the moment and everyone is frustrated. But I think it’s molded us into the team we are now.”

San Diego State's Matt Bradley walks off the court after a 72-69 loss to Creighton in 2022.
San Diego State’s Matt Bradley walks off the court after a 72-69 loss to Creighton in the first round of the 2022 NCAA tournament.
(K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Darrion Trammell had just entered the transfer portal from Seattle University and happened to watch the game on TV. He remembers feeling sorry for the Aztecs, marveling at the madness of March. A week later, he was being courted by them.

“That’s something we talked about when I was being recruited,” Trammell said, “coming in and being a guy who could ultimately affect winning.”

Which he did Friday night, igniting a 12-0 Aztecs run after they trailed by nine midway through the second half and finishing with 21 points.

Which put them in the Elite Eight against … Creighton.

Fate. Destiny. Opportunity.

“Of course,” Keshad Johnson said with a twinkle in his eye, “you want a revenge-type game.”


The only people who might want it more are Adam and Arthur’s parents, especially after spending last week shuttling between Orlando and Denver to see their sons play in the NCAA tournament, one Thursday and Saturday, the other Friday and Sunday.

They are siblings. They have a sibling rivalry.

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March 25, 2023

The last time they played against each other before the NCAA tournament in Fort Worth was four years earlier in a pickup game at a YMCA near their home in the Dallas Metroplex. Arthur won a few games. Adam won a few. It ended when Arthur split open Adam’s eyebrow with a headbutt, requiring a trip to urgent care and stitches.

Kaluma was waiting to take the floor for warmups Friday night when SDSU upset No. 1 overall seed Alabama in the first Sweet 16 game at the KFC Yum! Center. He inserted himself into the mass of jubilant humanity to find his brother.

“We had a little moment,” Kaluma said. “He said, ‘You guys better be ready.’ I said, ‘You all better be ready. That’s all I got to say, for real.’ ”

A couple of hours later, after Creighton dispatched Princeton 86-75 to secure its place in the Elite Eight, Kaluma was asked about the playful sibling trash talk after last year’s game that even McDermott admits “we had no business winning.”

“We got it done,” Kaluma said. “I don’t want to hear any excuses about how you guys had us or anything like that. We won the game at the end of the day. Now they have a chance to try to even the score, so we can’t let that happen. I want to go 2-0 on my bro.”


Seiko shakes his head. “We’ll see,” he said.

San Diego State's Adam Seiko celebrates
San Diego State’s Adam Seiko celebrates after the Aztecs’ win over Alabama on Friday.
(K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Beneath the brotherly bravado, though, is a deep reverence. Arthur recounts how Adam, five years his elder, would set up cones on their driveway court and drilled him in ballhandling, how Adam’s perfection and professionalism rubbed off on him, how he wouldn’t be here without him.

The respect extends to their teams.

One of the motivating factors for the Aztecs against Alabama came about 12 minutes before tip, when the teams lined up for the national anthem and then were supposed to shake hands. The Crimson Tide didn’t, retreating to the locker room instead.

“I don’t know what they had going on,” Trammell said. “It was something that we definitely took personal.”

The teams will line up for the anthem Sunday. Figure they’ll shake hands afterward. They might hug.

“It was a cool experience to be on the flight with those guys,” Creighton guard Ryan Nembhard said. “They’re all real good dudes. We know they’re a great program. They’re super humble.”


“You have to have respect for each other,” McDermott said, “if you are going to share a flight like that.”