The Western Region’s No. 1 seeded Arizona Wildcats got a run for their money Thursday night in a Sweet 16 showdown with No. 4 San Diego State.
The Aztecs lead for a majority of the evening and held Arizona to 28 first-half points. However, the Wildcats were able to turn it on late, even after super reserve Rondae Hollis-Jefferson fouled out, and they emerged with a 70-64 victory at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.
SDSU missed out on the opportunity to go to its first Elite Eight in school history, while Arizona is returning there for the first time in three years. The team is set to face the No. 2 Wisconsin Badgers at 5:49 p.m. Saturday, March 29, in Anaheim.
Here’s a look at Thursday’s game by the numbers:
Forward Aaron Gordon and center Kaleb Tarczewski did not get any blocks in the previous round against Gonzaga (one game after they combined for 10 rejections against Weber State), but the two big men got back on track Thursday in this department. They each swatted two shots, making for the Wildcats’ only four blocks in the game.
Nick Johnson, the Pac-12 Player of the Year, did not make a field goal — or even score a point — until there were 2 minutes, 46 seconds left in the contest. After hitting a fast-break layup, he made a long 3-pointer less than a minute later and proceeded to make 10 straight free throws as the Aztecs kept fouling to stop the clock. Despite the poor start, Johnson finished with 15 points, tying the team high.
Hollis-Jefferson, a freshman, reached five fouls and was disqualified with just under five minutes to play, marking the third time he’s fouled out in his career. Arizona was ahead 52-50 at that point, but held on for the win in his absence.
SDSU went longer than seven minutes without a field goal in the second half, allowing for Arizona to make a roaring comeback. The Aztecs saw themselves drop from a three-point lead to a four-point deficit during that cold span.
A big reason Arizona fell behind was because they were dominated on the glass, as SDSU grabbed 38 boards to the Wildcats’ 28 — a 10-rebound difference. Aztecs senior Josh Davis pulled down 11 rebounds in the first half, but Arizona slowed him to just four boards after the break.
Arizona did a lot better with sharing the ball than the Aztecs did. Sean Miller’s club finished with 14 assists; Gabe York had four, while Johnson and T.J. McConnell added three apiece. SDSU finished with three measly assists in the game — 11 fewer than Arizona’s total.
Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson were impressive early on when most of the rest of the team wasn’t. They both finished with 15 points. Johnson went on a tear at the end and ended up with 15 as well. All three did well on the boards, too: Johnson with eight, Gordon with seven and Hollis-Jefferson grabbed five.
Despite being held under 30 in the first half, the Wildcats still had a strong showing with 47.9 percent shooting in the game. That included making five of their 12 3-point attempts (41.7 percent). Thanks to Johnson going 10-for-10 on free throws, Arizona was quite efficient from the line as well, hitting 19-of-25 overall (76 percent).
The Wildcats are returning to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2011 — and the second time under Miller’s guidance. If they were to win Saturday, they would advance to the Final Four for the first time since 2001.