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Wildcats a game away from Sean Miller's first Final Four
All year, it seems Arizona has been waiting for one thing or another to catch up to the Wildcats to prevent them from making a deep run in the postseason.
First, the injury to veteran forward Brandon Ashley was supposed to hamper Arizona. Then, the Wildcats’ poor free throw shooting was going to be the liability.
If Thursday’s 70-64 win over San Diego State proved anything, Arizona can continue to win under less than perfect conditions all the way to the Elite Eight.
The Aztecs opened the first half in a drastic reversal of the first meeting between these two Western powers, when San Diego State lost 69-60 on Nov. 14.
Dwayne Polee, whom coach Steve Fisher left on the bench in that first game, scored 13 points. Led by Josh Davis, San Diego State dominated the glass early. The Aztecs had nine offensive rebounds through the entirety of their first meeting, but 10 in the first half of the Sweet 16.
On Arizona’s side, Wildcats star guard Nick Johnson missed his first 10 shots from the field, and Kaleb Tarczewski picked up his fourth foul early in the second half. San Diego State led by 4 at the half and by as much as 6 early in the second half.
San Diego State played one of its best games of the year, but Arizona found a way.
An athletic dunk by Aaron Gordon, one of the top freshmen still playing in the Tournament, was part of an Arizona rally that brought the Wildcats back to a 2-point deficit.
Johnson capped the game by making his final two shots, including a 3-pointer. More important, for a team that struggles at the line, Johnson was 10 of 10 on free throws.
Johnson’s free throw prowess was one of the few perfect performances in the Sweet 16 for Arizona, but it was enough.