What the Aztecs needed was an early lead that would help them topple a favored opponent. What they got was what they expected. Arizona played like a highly ranked team and hung on to win 69-60 in a hostile environment.
Arizona took command of the game early with freshman Aaron Gordon leading the way. With 9:36 left in the opening half, the Wildcats led 23-11. More specifically, it was 12-11 Gordon over the Aztecs.
The Arizona frontcourt, ranked No. 3 by CBS Sports, lived up to its billing. Along with Gordon, center Kaleb Tarczewski and forward Brandon Ashley set the early tone. Perhaps their biggest accomplishment was shutting down Aztec forward Josh Davis, who missed all three of his shots and grabbed just one rebound in the first half.
At 4:33 remaining in the opening half, the Aztecs trimmed the lead to six points and had started to get the Wildcats in foul trouble. This was a pivotal time in the contest. Would the Aztecs continue to close the gap or could the Wildcats reassert their dominance? The Wildcats guards proved to be the difference. In the time remaining, Arizona guards Nick Johnson, Gabe York and T.J. McConnell accounted for all 11 points of an 11-2 run that pushed the Wildcats lead to 14 with 29 seconds left. Matt Shrigley for the home team nailed a three pointer to cut the halftime lead to 11 points.
Out of Time
Steve Fisher and company made adjustments in the second half that enabled the Aztecs to chip away at the lead. But each time they cut the lead, Arizona would bounce back and build it up again. The Aztecs got as close as four points with 1:51 left in the second half.
Arizona ran an out of bounds play that resulted in a dunk for Gordon, pushing the lead back to six. This seemed to take the air of out the Aztecs. From there, the Aztecs missed their final six shot attempts while the Wildcats made five of their last six free throws to secure the victory.
Freshman guard D'Erryl Williams saw nine minutes of action, all in the second half for the Aztecs. With Williams at the point, Xavier Thames was able to focus more on his offense, which resulted in 14 second-half points.
The Down Low
The Wildcats outrebounded the Aztecs 19-8 in the first half. The Aztecs had just one offensive rebound in the first half even though they missed 13 shots. Both teams added 20 rebounds, 8 on the offensive boards, in the second half. But the Aztecs needed to do more than keep pace in order to make the comeback complete.
Arizona easily outshot San Diego State in the first half and maintained a comfortable margin in shooting percentage in the second half. Neither team took a lot or made a lot of three pointers. The Aztecs held a slight advantage there. J.J. O'Brien was the highlight for San Diego State with 19 points and six rebounds. Guard Xavier Thames also had 19 points but on just 5-of-16 shooting from the field.
Nick Johnson for Arizona was the Aztecs nemesis once again, leading all scorers with 23 points. In the Diamond Head Classic last season, it was Johnson's block of Chase Tapley's layup attempt that enabled Arizona to defeat the Aztecs. This time it was Johnson's scoring punch that landed the knockout blow.