The No. 6 Arizona Wildcats entered Thursday’s road test at San Diego State with a number of questions.
Now they have at least a few answers.
Junior guard Nick Johnson scored 23 points, standout freshman Aaron Gordon added 16 of his own, and the Wildcats (3-0) led from start to finish in a 69-60 win over the Aztecs at Viejas Arena in their first road test of the season.
Gordon helped Arizona get off to its blazing start by hitting his first five shots and scoring 12 points in the first half before being sidelined with foul trouble.
Johnson was able to come up with several baskets when the Wildcats were going through rough patches offensively, and Arizona had a fairly balanced offensive attack — seven of eight players that saw the floor scored.
Defensively, the Wildcats forced nine turnovers and held San Diego State to just 36 percent shooting. The Wildcats dominated the Aztecs inside and outrebounded them by 11.
Arizona’s defense held star SDSU forward Josh Davis to just two points on 1-of-7 shooting, and point guard T.J. McConnell played a large roll in Aztec guard Xavier Thames going just 5-of-16 from the floor.
Arizona’s foul trouble almost cost it against San Diego State, and if the Wildcats aren’t able to adjust to how officials are enforcing the new emphasis on touching the ball handler, they’ll likely have to finish several games without one or two of their top players.
The Wildcats had five players with at least four fouls – freshman forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson fouled out – including four starters in Gordon, Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski and Nick Johnson. But the Wildcats and head coach Sean Miller were able to navigate the final 10 minutes with losing just Hollis-Jefferson to fouls despite Ashley and Gordon seeing extended minutes with four.
Senior guard Jordin Mayes continued to be a non-factor for Arizona, which played only three guards for extended minutes – Johnson, McConnell and Gabe York. Mayes missed his only shot in limited action.
San Diego State has won 26 of its last 30 non-conference game, and two of the losses have come against Arizona — Thursday’s game and the finals of the Diamond Head Classic last season.
Arizona begins the NIT Season Tip Off against Farleigh Dickinson on Monday at 9 p.m. in McKale Center. The Wildcats will play either Rhode Island or Metro State on Tuesday before heading to New York the following week for the semifinals and a likely finals matchup against No. 4 Duke.