Five things: Arizona holds off Aztecs

March, 28, 2014
Mar 28
12:44
AM ET


ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Arizona proved it’s above any one player with its 70-64 win over San Diego State. The Wildcats withstood Nick Johnson's shooting struggles and Kaleb Tarczewski's foul troubles to advance to the Elite Eight and a matchup with Wisconsin.

Here are five observations from their victory:

• The first thought from Arizona’s win is how in the world did the Wildcats pull it off? The simple answer was defense. The Wildcats held SDSU to just 38.9 percent shooting from the field. But it wasn’t entirely because Zona was just so suffocating. The The Aztecs have been offensively challenged all season and when they should have held a bigger lead, they allowed the Wildcats to stay within striking distance. Xavier Thames did his best to takeover the scoring load -- he had 25 points -- but he was 9 of 22 from the field.

• The Aztecs made it plain that they wouldn’t let Johnson beat them. He scored 23 in the regular season meeting. SDSU coach Steve Fisher put 6-foot-7 forward Dwayne Polee II on the 6-foot-3 guard. Polee’s length clearly bothered Johnson early and even when Polee was no longer defending him, he still couldn’t find the basket. He missed his first nine shots and his 10th -- a bank shot with him driving left -- rimmed out just as it seemed it would be his first make. He was scoreless until making a 3-pointer with 1:51 that gave the Wildcats their biggest lead at the time. Johnson finished with 15 points thanks to making 10 of 10 free throws.

• What a difference a Polee makes. The junior from Los Angeles didn’t play in the first meeting for disciplinary reasons. His defense on Johnson was only part of his impact. With Thames struggling to shoot in the first half, Polee provided an offensive burst for the Aztecs. Two of his baskets came off steals, including a thunderous dunk in front of Aaron Gordon. He knocked down two 3-pointers too and scored 10 points of his 13 points in the first half.

• Small ball worked well for Arizona. Tarczewski picked up his third foul of the first half with five minutes left and he got his fourth foul barely more than 60 seconds into the second half. With their 7-foot center absent for most of the game, the Wildcats played with forwards Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and three guards. They got beat on the boards, but Hollis-Jefferson pumped in 15 points and five rebounds before fouling out. Gordon had an identical line with 15 points and added seven rebounds.

T.J. McConnell didn’t exactly carry Arizona, but his leadership guided them in the right direction. In the first half with the Aztecs taking control of the game, McConnell provided an emotional boost -- first from his defense, then by his scoring. McConnell finished with 11 points and five rebounds.

C.L. Brown | email

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