Arizona holds off San Diego State 70-64 in NCAAs
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — San Diego State did just about everything right against Arizona.
The Aztecs controlled the boards, especially on the offensive glass; shut down Wildcats star Nick Johnson for a long stretch; and got 7-footer Kaleb Tarczewski in foul trouble.
They just didn’t win the game.
Led by Johnson, who exploded for 15 points in the final 2:45, the top-seeded Wildcats won 70-64 on Thursday night in the West Regional semifinals.
“Couldn’t quite get it done,” coach Steve Fisher said. “That is the hard part.”
The Aztecs’ defense forced Johnson to miss his first 10 shots, and the Pac-12 player of the year finished 2 of 12 from the field. But he made all 10 of his free throws down the stretch.
“He just made a lot of good shots,” said Dwayne Polee, who guarded Johnson and finished with 13 points.
Xavier Thames led the fourth-seeded Aztecs (31-5) with 25 points, making all six of his free throws. Josh Davis had 14 rebounds, helping his team to a 37-29 rebounding advantage, including an 18-10 edge on the offensive glass.
“Nobody’s happy,” forward Winston Shepard said. “We really had a good enough team to go deep in the tournament.”
Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson scored 15 points each for the top-seeded Wildcats (33-4). They next play Wisconsin in the West Regional final on Saturday.
Thames and Polee tried to bail out SDSU in the final minute, each hitting 3-pointers before Thames’ basket cut the deficit to 65-61 with 38 seconds left.
The drama wasn’t over yet in a game featuring tenacious defense and rabid intensity by both teams.
SDSU got called for a 10-second violation, and the Wildcats regained the ball. Johnson got fouled and made both free throws for a 67-61 lead with 26 seconds to go. Thames got fouled on a 3-point attempt, and he sank all three shots to leave SDSU trailing 67-64.
The Aztecs had Johnson trapped near their bench, but he passed out of the double team, and Gabe York got fouled at the other end. He missed the first and made the second, keeping Arizona ahead 68-64. Thames missed, and Johnson went to the line again where he ended the scoring with two free throws.
Hollis-Jefferson fouled out with 4:42 to play, but Johnson made his first basket a couple minutes later and carried the Wildcats across the finish line after they trailed much of the second half.
Arizona coach Sean Miller joined his brother Archie in the final eight. The younger Miller coached Dayton to an 82-72 victory over Stanford of the Pac-12 in the South Regional semifinals.
T.J. McConnell’s layup gave Arizona its first lead, 50-49, of the second half after the Wildcats got within one three times. SDSU answered with baskets the first two times, but couldn’t stop McConnell, who finished with 11 points.
The Wildcats started getting some of the offensive rebounds that eluded them much of the game, and Tarczewski scored after his teammates grabbed two on the same possession to keep Arizona ahead 54-51.
The Aztecs built their lead back to eight points early in the second half, with Thames scoring six of their first eight points. The Wildcats scored six in a row, capped by Gordon’s one-handed dunk off York’s alley-oop pass on a turnover by Davis, and Hollis-Jefferson added two free throws to leave them trailing 42-40.
Polee’s defense helped keep Johnson scoreless in the first half, when he went 0 for 7 and missed all three of his 3-point attempts. He finally hit a jumper at the buzzer, but typical of Arizona’s early luck, it was ruled no good.
Tarczewski picked up his third foul with 5:13 to go, leaving the Wildcats without their 7-footer to protect the basket.
Neither team led by more than four points until the Aztecs closed the half on a 12-6 run to lead 32-28.