The Sweet Sixteen hasn't been very sweet for the San Diego State Aztecs. In just their second Sweet Sixteen game in school history, they dropped another heartbreaker, this time to Arizona 70-64.
Nick Johnson couldn't make a basket for Arizona all night, until the last three minutes that is. He scored 15 of the final 16 points for the Wildcats, including 10-of-10 from the free throw line.
In the first half, Aaron Gordon led the way for the Wildcats with 11 points. Dwayne Polee II came off the bench to lead the Aztecs with 10 points. He had two steals that led directly to baskets. San Diego State dominated much of the play, but the Aztecs lead was just 32-28 at halftime. And they dodged a bullet as Nick Johnson made a 45-foot shot just after the halftime buzzer sounded.
Starting center Kaleb Tarczewski for the Wildcats picked up three early fouls in the first half to go with zero points and zero rebounds. The Aztecs held a huge rebounding edge 24-14 at the midway point. The difference was Josh Davis for San Diego State. He had 11 rebounds and six points. Both teams went only seven players deep in the opening half.
The Aztecs held the lead for much of the second half, and Xavier Thames scored 10 points in the first 11 minutes of the second half. But the Arizona defense tightened up, got steals, got easy baskets and got to the free throw line. They forced the Aztecs to put up a bunch of three-point shot attempts, but it wasn't enough.
Xavier Thames led San Diego State with 25 points, but it took a volume shooting effort as he was 9-of-22 and only 1-of-6 on three pointers. Dwayne Polee continued his outstanding play in the tournament, scoring 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting, including 3-of-5 from beyond the arc. He had the hot hand but couldn't get enough open looks.
Josh Davis for the Aztecs finished with 15 rebounds and six points. He was held scoreless in the second half. The third Aztecs player in double figures was Winston Shepard, who had 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting to go with five rebounds.
Aaron Gordon, Nick Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson all finished with 15 points for Arizona. T.J. McConnell added 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting.
In the end, Arizona made one more free throw, one more three pointer and one more two-point shot to account for their six-point victory. The Aztecs took more shots and missed more shots and fell just short of hitting the magic 39% field goal shooting percentage. San Diego State is perfect this season when they shoot higher than 39%. Tonight it was 38.9% compared to 47.9% for Arizona.
In the ESPN reseeding of the Sweet Sixteen, Arizona was No. 1 and San Diego State was No. 16. Ask Arizona coach Sean Miller if that feels about right. He knows Arizona was fortunate to escape with a win.