The No. 1 seed Arizona Wildcats proved that it’s not how you start but how you finish on Thursday night in Anaheim, coming from behind to secure a 70-64 victory over No. 4 seed San Diego State and a berth in the Elite Eight.
With the win, the Wildcats advance to face No. 2 seed Wisconsin, who earlier on Thursday defeated Baylor 69-52, for a spot in the Final Four.
Arizona (33-4) struggled mightily for much of the game. It was dominated on the glass during the first half and had a very hard time denying the Aztecs second-chance opportunities.
Nick Johnson—the Wildcats’ star player and 2014 Pac-12 Player of the Year—just couldn’t get on track early, but he sure came alive late.
Johnson posted zero points through the first 37 minutes of play, but he erupted for 15 in the final 2:45 to push his team over the finish line. It was one of the most improbable, and outstanding, individual performances of the tournament thus far.
San Diego State (31-5) led for most of the way, but it just couldn’t close the show in crunch time. Despite out-rebounding the Wildcats by a 38-28 margin—including 19-10 on the offensive glass—the Aztecs couldn’t make the most of their opportunities, particularly after the break.
They had a much harder time finding good looks in the second half, as the Wildcats upped their defensive pressure and intensity, and were outscored 42-32 after taking a 32-28 lead into the break.
A trio of 15-point scorers led Arizona. Johnson had all of his points in the closing minutes, but Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson kept the team in the game when he was struggling.
San Diego State, who has to swallow the bitter pill of losing a game they probably should’ve won, was led Xavier Thames with 25 points.