Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
San Diego, CA- The Aztecs have been one of the Elite teams in the nation all season, tonight they just didn’t have enough to reach the Elite 8 as the No. 4 seed Aztecs fell to No. 1 seed Arizona 70-64 in the Sweet 16.
The Aztecs held their own to start the game, keeping pace with the Wildcats throughout the first half. The Aztecs out rebounded Arizona 24-14 in the half, 11 rebounds from Josh Davis alone and held them to 37 percent shooting from the field. The Aztecs finished the first half on a 12-6 run, which was capped by a Dwayne Polee steal and monster dunk to give the Aztecs a 32-28 lead at the half.
ofNick Johnson scored all of his 15 points in the last 2:45, after missing his first 10 shots, and Arizona rallied to beat San Diego State 70-64 Thursday night and advance to the final eight of the NCAA 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 Saturday.
Xavier Thames scored 25 points and Dwayne Polee added 13 points for the Aztecs (31-5). Those two 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.
Johnson got fouled and made both 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.
Johnson, the Pac-12 player of the year, finished 2 of 12 from the field, but made all 10 of his free throws.
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 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.
Tarczewski picked up his third foul with 5:13 to go, leaving the Wildcats without their 7-footer to protect the basket.
“We’ve played 37 games now,” Miller said. “That was the most physical, hard-fought game of the season for us.”
And indeed, the Aztecs checked off most boxes on the game plan to beat a No. 1 seed, correcting many of the mistakes from the loss at Viejas Arena in November, outrebounding them, getting their bigs in foul trouble, holding Pac-12 player of the year Nick Johnson without a point for 36½ minutes, leading by eight in the first half and again early in the second.
It was SDSU’s second trip to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament at Anaheim’s Honda Center, and second loss.
The Sweet 16 loss here three years ago is remembered for Jamaal Franklin’s technical foul that swayed the momentum in Connecticut’s favor.
Thursday night, it was a two-minute sequence late in the game that will haunt the Aztecs.
It started with a Wildcats timeout with 4:23 to go, after the Aztecs had sprung their 1-3-1 zone defense for the first time. Miller drew up a play for the zone, only for the Aztecs to switch back to man-to-man.
The Wildcats calmly recognized the change and ran a set play that got Gabe York an open 3 from the left side, which he missed. Offensive rebound: Aaron Gordon. York got loose in the lane and shot again, and missed. Offensive rebound: Gordon. But they didn’t miss a third time, 7-foot center Kaleb Tarczewski scoring inside off a nice feed from Gordon.
The Aztecs went to the other end and Shepard (11 points, four turnovers) tried a dribble handoff to Xavier Thames near midcou
Arizona guard T.J. McConnell, shadowing Thames all night, somehow squeezed between them and poke it away.
That ignited one of Arizona’s vaunted fast breaks that resulted in a layup by Johnson – his first points of the game after a 0 of 10 start. Suddenly unshackled, Johnson drained a 3 on the next possession against SDSU’s 1-3-1 zone – 56-51, Cats, 2:23 left.
SDSU: seven minutes without a basket
That they finished 31-5, that they won two games in the tournament, that they won the regular-season Mountain West title, that they won the Wooden Legacy and knocked off Kansas at Kansas – none of it expected four months ago – was no solace in the carnage of a losing locker room.