The West (regional semifinal) was won with defense.
National Player of the Year candidate Nick Johnson didn't score until the 2:46 mark of the second half, but Arizona held San Diego State to 38.9 percent shooting and limited the Aztecs to 19 points through the first 17 minutes of the second half to complete the 70-64 comeback victory.
One quarter of the Elite Eight head coaches will now be comprised of the Miller family, as Arizona's Sean joins Archie and Dayton in the regional finals.
Older brother was quick to thank Arizona's fanbase after Thursday's nail-biting victory:
The Wildcats will now face Wisconsin, as noted by Bleacher Report:
No. 1 Arizona hangs on to beat SDSU 70-64! They'll face Wisconsin in the Elite Eight. pic.twitter.com/QY58UxTxAF— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 28, 2014
Freshman phenom Aaron Gordon led the way for the 'Cats with 15 points, seven rebounds, two assists, two blocks and several highlight plays. T.J. McConnell and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson also helped pick up the slack during Johnson's off-night, combining for 26 points.
On the other side of things, the Aztecs controlled the offensive glass, Xavier Thames finished with a game-high 25 points and Dwayne Polee was huge off the bench, but Steve Fisher's squad—which led for most of the game—simply couldn't get enough stops down the stretch.
As Andy Glockner noted, they shouldn't be hanging their heads after a wonderful effort:
Hell of an effort by San Diego State. Ran into a slightly better version of themselves.— Andy Glockner (@AndyGlockner) March 28, 2014
The first half was all Aztecs.
Polee, who didn't play in the first meeting between these teams, provided an important spark off the bench with 10 points, a rebound, two steals and a block at the break. He knocked down two treys and converted both of his thefts into fast-break buckets, including this big slam:
College Basketball Talk's Rob Dauster put it simply:
Dwayne Polee. Putting on a show.— Rob Dauster (@RobDauster) March 28, 2014
The junior's second trey of the game put the Aztecs ahead by eight with 3:26 left in the half, but they failed to score again. Arizona got a couple of late buckets to cut the deficit to four points at halftime.
Considering San Diego State's dominance on the glass during the half—Josh Davis had 11 boards and the Aztecs had more offensive rebounds than the Wildcats had defensive rebounds—and Johnson's struggles, the Wildcats were fortunate with the minimal deficit, as Rush the Court's Andrew Murawa noted:
SDSU 50 OR%, 73.7 DR%, averaging 1.1 PPP, and Nick Johnson is 0/7 from the field. And the Aztecs are only up 4.— Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) March 28, 2014
Thames came out of the locker room with six quick points, but the Wildcats—if only for a short stretch— were able to force turnovers and get into transition, culminating with Gordon taking the roof off with this one-handed slam:
Both teams exchanged baskets for the next several minutes, but a McConnell layup gave the Wildcats their first lead of the second half with 7:21 remaining.
Two possessions later, Gordon once again showed off his unreal athleticism with a wild, out-of-control tip-in, forcing ESPN's Myron Medcalf to wonder about his possible secret identity:
So Aaron Gordon might be Batman. Have we considered that idea?— Myron Medcalf (@MedcalfByESPN) March 28, 2014
Gordon continued to do it all—grabbing two offensive rebounds and assisting on a Kaleb Tarczewski bucket—before a McConnell steal led to Johnson's first points, putting the Wildcats ahead by five with just under three minutes to go.
That seemed to open the floodgates for the ultra-athletic guard, who drilled a three and hit all 10 of his free-throws down the stretch to secure the win for the Wildcats.
Nick Johnson had nothing at the last TV timeout and ended up with 15? #steppinup— Jerry Palm (@jppalmCBS) March 28, 2014
While Arizona got some big buckets late and finished with a healthy 70 points, its defense—as has been the case all season—was the reason the Wildcats were able to stay within striking distance during its early struggles.
And with a well-oiled offensive machine in Wisconsin waiting in the Elite Eight, it's going to be a tantalizing contrast in strengths for a trip to North Texas.
No. 1 vs. No. 2. Defense vs. offense. Saturday can't get here soon enough. No matter the outcome, one coach will be heading to the Final Four for the first time.