Arizona survived and advanced on Thursday night, beating San Diego State and moving on to the Elite Eight. Read on to find out how the Wildcats did it, who the player of the game was, and more.
fought hard and had to come back from multiple deficits in order to survive and advance to the Elite 8. The Wildcats were down by as many as eight points, but came back to beat San Diego State
70-64 on Thursday night. Here's an analysis of what happened:
Arizona Players of the Game:
Aaron Gordon – The freshman was one of the biggest assets in the win and in the entire tournament so far. Gordon scored 15 points, tying Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Nick Johnson for the team lead. Although he missed all three of his free throw attempts, Gordon hit seven of nine field goal attempts and grabbed six rebounds in the victory. The freshman forward dished out two assists and had several momentum building plays, including a monster slam and a tip-in that got Arizona's offense back on track.
Arizona and San Diego State threw punches back and forth in the first half, before the Aztecs finally started pulling away as Kaleb Tarczewski got into foul trouble. Leading 22-20, Arizona allowed San Diego State to go on a 9-0 run to take a 29-22 lead with four minutes to go before halftime.
With SDSU starting to pull away, the Wildcats awoke from their slumber. Although Arizona went to the locker room trailing by four, the final few minutes of the half were filled with hustle plays, energy, and emotion. The Wildcats could have entered halftime trailing by just one, but Nick Johnson's three-pointer at the buzzer left his hand fractions of a second too late and was waved off.
Both teams slugged it out for the first five minutes of the second half with SDSU pulling away by eight before the Wildcats got back into gear. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson had a jumper in the lane and followed it with a dunk before Gabe York found Aaron Gordon on the fast break for a monster alley oop to bring Arizona to within two at 40-38.
With 7:19 to go in the game, Arizona took it's first lead of the second half at 50-49. T.J. McConnell drove down the lane and got a layup to go up by one. It didn't last long as J.J. O'Brien hit a free throw on the other end to tie the game. The Wildcats took the lead again with a nice tip in from Gordon on a McConnell missed jumper.
Things were looking up, but that was when Gordon missed two free throws with five minutes to go that would've given Arizona a four-point cushion. On the other end, Hollis-Jefferson was whistled for his fifth foul of the game, allowing Skylar Spencer to make a free throw and cut the lead to one.
With those two plays, it seemed as if the tide had turned back to SDSU, but two offensive rebounds squashed any momentum that the Aztecs had. Gordon had back-to-back offensive rebounds allowing Kaleb Tarczewski to score a short jumper before McConnell stole the ball at half court and found York from his back to start the fast break. York took it hard to the rack, but dished the ball to Nick Johnson at the last second, allowing him to make his first bucket of the night, giving Arizona a 56-51 lead.
That play awakened Nick Johnson as he hit the biggest shot of the game on the next trip down the court. After starting 0-10 from the field, Johnson stepped in and hit a long three pointer that gave Arizona a six-point lead heading into the final two minutes of the game.
San Diego State did not go down without a fight and the Aztecs hit back-to-back three pointers in between sets of Arizona free throws, cutting the lead to four before two more Johnson free throws put the Wildcats' lead at 65-59 with 50-seconds to go.
Johnson was a perfect 7-for-7 from the line down the stretch, but a foul on Gordon while Xavier Thames was shooting a three-pointer allowed San Diego State to cut the lead to just three. York made one of two free throws and Johnson knocked down free throws eight and nine to seal the 70-64 victory.
Stats of the Night:
76: It may not seem like much, but Arizona shot 76-percent from the free throw line in the game. The Wildcats hit 19 of 25 shots from the charity stripe, including 11-12 in the closing minutes of the game. Without those clutch makes in the final moments, Arizona could have been looking at the Elite 8 from the other side as San Diego State was making a strong push, even getting it down to a one-possession game.
Arizona lost in the Sweet Sixteen a year ago on a last second shot to Ohio State. Three years ago, Arizona beat Duke in the Sweet Sixteen, but could not bury a last second shot to beat Connecticut in the Elite Eight. On a night when Arizona fans were out numbered by San Diego State fans, the Wildcats came through and will give Sean Miller his third crack at the Elite Eight on Saturday.
Nick Johnson was absent for most of the game, but came through in the clutch. Johnson started the game 0-10 from the field and was a little sluggish on the defensive end of the court. He came alive just when the Wildcats needed him the most, up three and needing offense to put the game away. It wasn't his worst game of the year and his 15 points is a little deceiving, but he was absolutely vital to the game and the victory in the last two minutes.
Sean Miller Quotable:
"The beginning of the game, giving up that many second shots, you don't get to this level without having that toughness and resolve that we have," Miller said.
"That to me was the story line of the game. Us finding a way, being tough minded, and almost willing our way to the finish line."
"The poise that Coach Miller has and our team has, my teammates have, it's absolutely incredible," Gordon said. I love these guys to death. they play with so much heart top to bottom. Everybody has heart and they have no quit in them.
"It's really easy to go through 40 minutes and give it your all when you know the person next to you is playing with their heart and leaving it all on the line."