Creighton and San Diego State shared a chartered flight to the Maui Invitational four months ago and the two head coaches sat across from each other on the aisle, talking about possibly playing in the tournament championship game.
That didn't happen in Maui but the Aztecs and Bluejays are about to play on a much bigger stage.
Sixth-seeded Creighton (24-12) and fifth-seeded San Diego State (30-6) are the final two teams standing in the South Region. Both programs are aiming to reach new heights when they share the court in Louisville, Ky., with a Final Four berth on the line.
They are flying in unprecedented altitude as neither school has ever reached the Final Four. The Aztecs hadn't advanced past the Sweet 16 until stunning No. 1 overall seed Alabama 71-64 on Friday, while the Bluejays' 86-75 win over 15th-seeded Princeton got them into their first Elite Eight since 1941 when there were just eight total teams in the tournament.
This is heady territory for San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher. He initially came to the school as Steve Fisher's top assistant prior to the 1999-2000 season. The Aztecs then went 5-23 and didn't win a single Mountain West Conference game.
Now the school is an NCAA Tournament regular but it typically is done by this stage of March Madness.
"We recruit and we say our goal is to win a national championship, so we can't act surprised when we have an opportunity to advance to the Final Four," Dutcher said after the knockout of Brandon Miller-led Alabama. "That's what we tell them when we recruit them, and it's just not words to get them to come here. It's words we believe in."
Dutcher sat across from Creighton coach Greg McDermott on that flight to Maui that began with the Bluejays boarding in Omaha, Neb. The plane stopped in San Diego to refuel and that's when the Aztecs boarded.
The two schools also flew back to the mainland together.
"We talked on the way out about wanting to meet in the championship of Maui and then we would be OK with one of us winning and one of us losing," McDermott said. "So it's pretty ironic that we're going to meet with an opportunity to go to the Final Four. It's going to be a fun Sunday."
The teams also met in the first round of last season's NCAA Tournament, and the ending wasn't much fun for San Diego State.
The Aztecs led by nine points with under four minutes left in regulation before the Bluejays went on a 9-0 run to force overtime. Creighton eventually prevailed 72-69.
The game will include a sibling rivalry as well. The Bluejays' Arthur Kaluma, who averages 11.8 points per game, is the younger brother of San Diego State's Adam Seiko (6.2 points per game).
Seiko is tied for the team lead with 53 3-pointers, along with Matt Bradley, who is the Aztecs' lone double-digit scorer at 12.8 points per game.
San Diego State revolves around tenacious defense -- Alabama's Miller was 3 of 19 shooting and committed six turnovers -- and team basketball. The offensive hero on Friday was Darrion Trammell, who scored 21 to raise his average to 9.8.
"This point in the year, you kind of just have to have that confidence that you're going to knock those shots down that you've been working on," Trammell said.
Aztecs big man Nathan Mensah is a two-time Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year and he will be asked to keep Creighton big man Ryan Kalkbrenner in check.
Kalkbrenner, who is a two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year, is averaging 21 points on 24-of-36 shooting (66.7 percent) during Creighton's three-game NCAA Tournament run. For the season, he is averaging 15.9 points and shooting 70.8 percent.
The 7-foot-1 Kalkbrenner is one of five double-digit scorers for the Bluejays.
"There are eight teams left, to be one of those eight teams is just crazy," Kalkbrenner said. "It means what we worked for all year. It's what you work for since you get here on campus in the summer, and it's just all the hard work paying off now."
The winner will fly alone to Houston for the Final Four and will face either third-seeded Kansas State or ninth-seeded Florida Atlantic.
--Field Level Media