Guard Nick Johnson, the Pac-12 Player of the Year, was
scoreless for more than 36 minutes. Center Kaleb Tarczewski was
in foul trouble all game. Super sub Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
fouled out with 4:42 to go after scoring 15 points.
San Diego State destroyed Arizona on the glass in the first half
and was up eight points early in the second half.
"That was the most physical, hard-fought game of the season for
us," said Arizona coach Sean Miller, whose anxiety was evident
early in the game as his necktie hung loose and askew. "San
Diego State really set the tone on how the game was going to be
However, the Wildcats hung around all game behind the play of
freshman forwards Aaron Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson, and then
Johnson took over late, scoring all 15 of his points in the
final three minutes as Arizona rallied to beat fourth-seeded San
Diego State 70-64 at Honda Center on Thursday.
"A few shots didn't go down, but I thought they were good
shots," Johnson said. "These guys just give me great confidence
to keep on shooting and finish the game. That's what I did."
Arizona (33-4) will play in its second West Region final in the
past four years, facing second-seeded Wisconsin on Saturday
night. Arizona is 0-3 in regional finals in Anaheim, losing in
1998, 2003 and 2011.
San Diego State point guard Xavier Thames made three free throws
with 19.1 seconds left to cut the Aztecs' deficit to 67-64.
Guard Gabe York put the Wildcats up by four with 10.8 seconds
left by hitting the second of two free-throw attempts.
Thames then missed a 3-point attempt, San Diego State forward
Dwayne Polee II missed a tip-in attempt, and Johnson sealed the
win with two foul shots.
Johnson, the Pac-12 Player of the Year, missed his first 10
shots. With 2:43 left, a layup in transition — fueled by a
steal by guard T.J. McConnell — got him rolling, and he scored
15 of the last 16 points for the Wildcats, going 10-for-10 from
"Good players do that," San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said.
"We're trying to say foul anybody but him."
Before Johnson came alive, Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson propped
up Arizona, each scoring 15 points. Miller also credited
Arizona's defense, the team's calling card all season. The
Wildcats held San Diego State without a basket for 7:01 until
Polee hit a 3-pointer with 1:17 left.
"I told the team how proud we as a staff were to have the
privilege to have them all year," Fisher said. "I've never had a
group in all my years that was more willing to learn and be
taught, which makes this even harder.
"I also told them that anybody who watched the game or listened
to it on radio had to see a team with character, with pride,
with toughness. They put themselves into position to win but
couldn't quite get it done."
San Diego State (31-5) led 40-32 early in the second half before
Arizona went on a 6-0 run, highlighted by a one-handed slam from
Gordon off an alley-oop pass from York. The Aztecs were able to
stiff-arm the Wildcats for the next several minutes, but Arizona
grabbed the 50-49 lead with 7:19 to go on a driving layup by
McConnell, who finished with 11 points.
Thames, the Mountain West Player of the Year, scored 25 points.
Polee scored 13 points off the bench, and forward Winston
Shepard added 11. Aztecs forward Josh Davis had 14 rebounds and
San Diego State exerted its superior size from the start, with
Davis pulling down 10 rebounds in the first 14 minutes. Polee
was his usual spark, twice turning steals into easy baskets,
including a one-handed jam that was part of a 9-0 run that gave
the Aztecs a 29-22 lead with 4:27 left before halftime. He had
10 points as San Diego State led 32-28 at the break.
"That game was probably the best game we played just by the
standpoint that we were grinding it," York said. "We didn't play
well in the first half, shots weren't falling for us, and we
found a way to pull it out.
"That just goes to show how great a team we have. ... Just the
will to win showed tonight for us."
NOTES: Arizona G Nick Johnson was selected a first-team
All-American by the National Association of Basketball Coaches
on Wednesday. He earlier earned first-team bids from the United
States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) and the Sporting
News. The fourth NCAA-recognized All-America team will be
released by the Associated Press on Monday. ... Archie Miller,
the younger brother of Arizona coach Sean Miller, advanced to
the Elite 8 with Dayton's 82-72 win over Stanford on Thursday in
Memphis. ... San Diego State F Josh Davis finished with 41
rebounds in the team's three NCAA Tournament games. ... Aztecs
PG Xavier Thames averaged 26.0 points in the tourney. ...
Arizona F Aaron Gordon is 22-for-30 from the field in the
tournament. ... Miles Simon, the hero of Arizona's run to the
1997 national title, attended the game.
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