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Cat Tracks: Wildcats win Diamond Head Classic

Sure, you could read the box score and know who won, but we all know that won’t tell you everything that happened in a football game. So, we give you ‘Cat Tracks’, providing you with the analysis, quotes and notes from Arizona’s December 25 win over San Diego State. Final score: Arizona 68, San Diego State 67 .

The Good:

The Wildcats backed up their No. 3 ranking (highest since 2004) with a nail-biting 68-67 win over No. 17 San Diego State in Tuesday’s Diamond Head Classic final in Honolulu.

In a battle of the Pac-12 and Mountain West Preseason Player of the Year selections (Solomon Hill and James Franklin), UA’s senior leader had the upper hand in the tournament final, scoring a season-high 21 points in the victory.

Despite holding a slim lead going into halftime, Arizona fell behind the Aztecs 41-33 four minutes into the second half. However, down the stretch the Wildcats’ veterans proved to be the difference in the non-conference showdown between top 20 teams.

Senior Kevin Parrom scored 12 of his season-high 17 points (7-of-11 shooting) over the final 16 minutes of play. Jones held Franklin to only one field goal in the second half. And, senior Mark Lyons hit two free throws to put Arizona up for good with 13 seconds remaining.

On the game’s final play, the Wildcats relied on the athleticism of sophomore Nick Johnson to preserve the victory. SDSU’s Chase Tapley had a clear lane to basket with only a few seconds remaining on the clock, but Johnson, coming over from the help side, denied Tapley’s last-second shot with an emphatic game-saving block.

The Bad:

Arizona scored 29 points in the first half but shot a putrid 29.4 percent from the field. The Wildcats were even worse in the first 20 minutes of play from downtown. UA hit just three of their first 12 shots from three-point range.

Mark Lyons, who was a key figure in the team’s other win over a ranked team (No. 5 Florida), hit two late free throws Tuesday but was a non-factor for much of the night. The senior guard picked up his fourth foul early in the second half, and finished with just nine points on 2-of-9 shooting.


• The Wildcats have now matched the start set by Lute Olsen’s squad back in 1987-88. That team started 12-0 en route to a Final Four appearance.

• UA’s victory snapped two of the Aztecs’ impressive streaks. Steve Fisher’s squad had won 24 straight games in December and 11 straight against Pac-12 teams before Tuesday night’s defeat.

• Arizona remains one of five unbeaten teams in the nation, along with Duke, Cincinnati, Michigan and Wyoming.

• Tuesday’s win marks the first time since December 4, 2008, that the Wildcats have beaten a ranked team in a road/neutral floor contest.

Coming Up Next:

Arizona will open up Pac-12 play in Tucson against Tad Boyle and the Colorado Buffaloes on January 3 at 7:00 p.m. Arizona time.