ANAHEIM, Calif. — Guard Nick Johnson scored all 15 of his points in the final three minutes, and top-seeded Arizona rallied to beat fourth-seeded San Diego State 70-64 in the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 at Honda Center on Thursday.
Arizona (33-4) will play in its second West Region final in the past four years, facing second-seeded Wisconsin on Saturday.
San Diego State point guard Xavier Thames made three free throws with 19.1 seconds left to cut the Aztecs’ deficit to 67-64. Guard Gabe York put the Wildcats up by four with 10.8 seconds left by hitting the second of two free-throw attempts.
Thames then missed a 3-point attempt, San Diego State forward Dwayne Polee II missed a tip-in attempt, and Johnson sealed the win with two foul shots.
Johnson, the Pac-12 Player of the Year, missed his first 10 shots and was scoreless for more than 36 minutes. However, a layup in transition with 2:43 left got him rolling, and he scored 15 of the last 16 points for the Wildcats, going 10-for-10 from the line.
Arizona forwards Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, both freshmen, also scored 15 points. Hollis-Jefferson fouled out with 4:42 left.
San Diego State (31-5) led 40-32 early in the second half before Arizona went on a 6-0 run, highlighted by a one-handed slam from Gordon off an alley-oop pass from York. The Aztecs were able to stiff-arm the Wildcats for the next several minutes, but Arizona grabbed the 50-49 lead with 7:19 to go on a driving layup by point guard T.J. McConnell, who finished with 11 points.
Thames, the Mountain West Player of the Year, scored 25 points. Forward Josh Davis had 15 rebounds as San Diego State dominated the glass in the first half, although Arizona recovered in that area after trailing by eight points early in the second half. Polee scored 13 points off the bench, and forward Winston Shepard added 11.
San Diego State exerted its superior size from the start, with Davis pulling down 10 rebounds in the first 14 minutes. Arizona center Kaleb Tarczewski, meanwhile, picked up his third foul with 5:13 to go in the first half.
Polee was his usual spark, twice turning steals into easy baskets, including a one-handed jam that was part of a 9-0 run that gave the Aztecs a 29-22 lead with 4:27 left before halftime. He had 10 points as San Diego State led 32-28 at the break.
Arizona, given its 24-14 first-half deficit on the glass, might have felt fortunate to be that close, although another fraction of a second would have made it a one-point game. Johnson, who went 0-for-7 in the half, made a 40-footer that came just after the buzzer.
The Wildcats defeated the Aztecs 69-60 in San Diego on Nov. 14, leading by double digits for the majority of the second half and winning the rebounding battle by 11. But that was before the Wildcats lost power forward Brandon Ashley to a season-ending foot injury, and before the Aztecs discovered super sub Polee.
NOTES: Arizona G Nick Johnson was selected a first-team All-American by the National Association of Basketball Coaches on Wednesday. He earlier earned first-team bids from the United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) and the Sporting News. The fourth NCAA-recognized All-America team will be released by the Associated Press on Monday. … Archie Miller, the younger brother of Arizona coach Sean Miller, advanced to the Elite 8 with Dayton’s 82-72 win over Stanford on Thursday in Memphis. … San Diego State F Josh Davis had 27 rebounds in the team’s first two NCAA Tournament games. … Miles Simon, the hero of Arizona’s run to the 1997 national title, attended the game.
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