ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Nick Johnson scored all of his 15 points in the last 2:45, after missing his first 10 shots, and Arizona rallied to beat San Diego State 70-64 Thursday night and advance to the final eight of the NCAA tournament.
Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson scored 15 points each for the top-seeded Wildcats (33-4). They next play Wisconsin in the West Regional final Saturday.
Xavier Thames scored 25 points and Dwayne Polee added 13 points for the Aztecs (31-5). Those two tried to bail out SDSU in the final minute, each hitting 3-pointers before Thames’ basket cut the deficit to 65-61 with 38 seconds left.
The drama wasn’t over yet in a game featuring tenacious defense and rabid intensity by both teams.
SDSU got called for a 10-second violation, and the Wildcats regained the ball. Johnson got fouled and made both for a 67-61 lead with 26 seconds to go. Thames got fouled on a 3-point attempt, and he sank all three shots to leave SDSU trailing 67-64.
The Aztecs had Johnson trapped near their bench, but he passed out of the double team and Gabe York got fouled at the other end. He missed the first and made the second, keeping Arizona ahead 68-64. Thames missed, and Johnson went to the line again where he ended the scoring with two free throws.
Hollis-Jefferson fouled out with 4:42 to play, but Johnson made his first basket a couple minutes later and carried the Wildcats across the finish line after they trailed much of the second half.
Arizona coach Sean Miller joined his brother Archie in the final eight. The younger Miller coached Dayton to an 82-72 victory over Stanford of the Pac-12 in the South Regional semifinals.
The Aztecs controlled the boards 37-29, with three of them often battling at once on the defensive end. Josh Davis had 14 rebounds for SDSU.
Johnson, the Pac-12 player of the year, finished 2 of 12 from the field, but made all 10 of his free throws.
T.J. McConnell’s layup gave Arizona its first lead, 50-49, of the second half after the Wildcats got within one three times. SDSU answered with baskets the first two times, but couldn’t stop McConnell, who finished with 11 points.
The Wildcats started getting some of the offensive rebounds that eluded them much of the game, and Kaleb Tarczewski scored after his teammates grabbed two on the same possession to keep Arizona ahead 54-51.
The Aztecs built their lead back to eight points early in the second half, with Thames scoring six of their first eight points. The Wildcats scored six in a row, capped by Gordon’s one-handed dunk off York’s alley-oop pass on a turnover by Davis, and Hollis-Jefferson added two free throws to leave them trailing 42-40.
Polee’s defense helped keep Johnson scoreless in the first half, when he went 0 for 7 and missed all three of his 3-point attempts. He finally hit a jumper at the buzzer, but typical of Arizona’s early luck, it was ruled no good. Tarczewski picked up his third foul with 5:13 to go, leaving the Wildcats without their 7-footer to protect the basket.
Neither team led by more than four points until the Aztecs closed the half on a 12-6 run to lead 32-28. Polee ignited the SDSU fans when he stepped in front of Johnson, swiped the ball and tore downcourt for a huge dunk. He and Skylar Shepard had four points each in the spurt.