Wildcats roar back, beat SDSU
Updated On: Mar 28 2014 01:27:51 AM HST
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 played."
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 the line.
"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 six points.
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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