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March 15, 2012
COLUMBUS, Ohio — An entire continent and several time zones may separate North Carolina State and San Diego State, but Wolfpack senior C.J. Williams is at least a little familiar with the Aztecs' basketball team.
Williams says he tries to watch as much college basketball as he can. He has seen some San Diego State games this season, including the wild Mountain West Conference Tournament quarterfinal, in which Aztec forward Jamaal Franklin hit a last-second three-pointer to beat Boise State, 65-62.
"I remember the shot that, when [Franklin] hit at the end of the game to win the game for them," Williams said. "They were ranked during the season. So you see them on TV, watch their highlights."
San Diego State likes to run four-guard offense, a style the Wolfpack doesn't have a lot of experience with. Williams is confident in his team's ability to adapt.
"I feel that we have four guys on the perimeter, including [sophomore forward] C.J. Leslie, that can guard any position one through four," Williams said. "I think we match up pretty well with them. They're a very talented team. They've got guys that can score the basketball, and we've got to go out on defense and kind of shut them down."
This is the third-straight year the Aztecs have been in the NCAA Tournament, and the Wolfpack have not made the field since 2006.
In the pressure-cooker that is March Madness, nothing beats experience. But NC State isn't concerned about playing a tournament-tested team.
"We try not to worry about it's been our first time here. We just come out and try to play our best," sophomore guard Lorenzo Brown said. "I mean, we know they're a great team. We know there are a lot of great teams in this tournament. We're just thinking about us right now."
"We have a tendency to focus on what our game plan is each game, but it's a little different feel than a regular season game," added Williams. "It all comes down to still playing basketball. This is a game we've been playing since we were little. And it really just comes down to who has the will to win and just playing basketball."
Making The Last One Count: It's every young basketball player's dream to suit up in the field of 68. For Williams, that dream was in jeopardy. NC State hadn't received a bid in his first three seasons, and the team was welcoming in a new coach for his final year.
With five games to go in the regular season, the Wolfpack stood at 18-11 and had a very real shot at the tournament — until a four-game skid seemingly derailed the postseason plans. NC State wasn't concerned.
"I think what probably helped us was the fact we played such a tough non-conference schedule, we played good teams from day one and played everybody great," NC State coach Mark Gottfried said. "We've been in a position to win just about every game we've played all year. I think just reminding our team of that, we are a good team. We can still get better.
"I think they responded to that."
The Wolfpack did respond, winning their last regular season game and two in the ACC Tournament to lock up an at-large bid.
"I knew this is my senior season, so this is my last chance to get to the NCAA Tournament," Williams said. "But now that I'm here, I'm just glad and I'm focused on what we have to do to win the game.
"One thing I will say is during the selection show, I was getting a little worried as our name wasn't popping up yet."