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Magic strikes again for Arizona

Arizona remained perfect thanks to two late free throws by Mark Lyons and a game-saving blocked shot by Nick Johnson. The Wildcats, who advanced to the tournament final of the Diamond Head Classic by pasting East Tennessee State and Miami, got all they bargained for Tuesday in Honolulu from No. 17 San Diego State.

Arizona senior guard Mark Lyons sank the game winning free throws with 13.1 seconds left to knock off No. 17 San Diego State.

The Aztecs (11-2) pushed Arizona to the brink, taking a 67-66 lead with 31 seconds to play on a free throw by Jamaal Franklin. The Wildcats advanced the ball to half court before Sean Miller called for Arizona’s final timeout to set up a potential game-winning score. Miller got just that as the Wildcats shied away from their usual high screen and instead opened the floor for senior guard Lyons to operate one-on-one in space. Lyons initiated his attack with a quick crossover dribble and got deep into the lane before being fouled at the rim with 13.1 seconds to go.

Lyons, who finished with just nine points on 2-for-9 shooting, sank both free throw attempts to put the Wildcats ahead 68-67.

SDSU’s final possession was a good one as Chase Tapley curled off a high ball screen to eventually work his way into a straight line push toward the hoop. Nick Johnson, who was defending Thames initially got caught against the screener but rather than giving up on the play took a diagonal path across the key to meet Tapley at the rim and swat his layup attempt away as teammates rallied to secure the loose ball as time expired.

Third-ranked Arizona (12-0) is off to its best start since 1987-88 when Steve Kerr and Sean Elliott led the Wildcats to their first Final Four in school history. Similar aspirations for these Cardiac Cats are present, especially after Arizona has proven not once but twice this season against two Top 20 opponents that they are capable of winning the tight games.

Earlier in the month, Arizona rallied from a six-point deficit to best then-No. 5 Florida on a game-winning bucket by Lyons with 7.1 seconds remaining. Tonight, Lyons and the Wildcats provided yet another theatrical comeback in front of a nationally-televised audience.

As clutch as Lyons’ late-game free throws were tonight, and as thrilling as Johnson’s blocked shot was, the Wildcats can thank Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom for their efforts against the Aztecs. The senior duo combined for 37 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. Parrom scored 17 points while Hill turned in a season-high 21 points and six boards.

The Wildcats led 29-27 at halftime as neither team shot well to open the game. SDSU connected on just 35.7 percent of its shots while the Wildcats were a season-low 29.4 percent shooting in the opening frame.

The Aztecs overcame the deficit to lead by eight points thanks to a 14-4 scoring run to open the second half. SDSU maintained its advantage until the Wildcats finally found their groove following an offensive rebound by Hill and an assist to Ashley for an easy score to trim Arizona’s deficit to 45-39 with just under 14 minutes remaining. The bucket triggered a 7-0 scoring run by Arizona, helping the Wildcats cut into SDSU’s lead and trail by only a point at 45-44 with 12 minutes left.

Tapley, who scored 19 points for the Aztecs, answered Arizona’s scoring run with a 3-Pointer only to have Parrom drain a trey on the Wildcats’ next possession to keep the game close.

Arizona would eventually take its first lead of the second half at 51-50 on two free throws by Hill with 10:16 to go. The two nationally ranked teams would then continue to trade leads over the final 10 minutes.

SDSU led 61-60 entering the game’s final television timeout. Arizona’s Parrom scored inside coming out of the break, which was soon followed by another 3-Pointer by Tapley to put the Aztecs back up 64-62. Not to be outdone, Parrom again responded to Tapley’s trey by knocking down a 3-Pointer of his own off a kick-out pass from Hill to put Arizona back up, 65-64.

SDSU retook the lead on two free throw makes by Xavier Thames with 1:22 remaining. Arizona’s Hill then sank one of two foul attempts to even the score with a minute left on the game clock. On SDSU’s next possession, the Aztecs secured an offensive rebound to set up a dribble-drive by Jamaal Franklin who was fouled going to the basket. Franklin missed his first free throw attempt, but sank the next to give SDSU a tenuous 67-66 lead with 31.4 seconds left.

After a timeout by Arizona, Lyons’ own dribble drive resulted in the senior guard sinking both attempts from the charity stripe to set up Johnson’s defensive heroics as the Wildcats successfully protected the one-point advantage and take home the tournament hardware.

Johnson joined Hill and Parrom in double figures for Arizona with 11 points. Brandon Ashley added nine points and seven rebounds.

Tapley’s 19 points led the Aztecs. Thames had 11 points while JJ O’Brien added 10 points and five rebounds. Franklin, who was plagued with early foul trouble, finished with just nine points but did pull down eight rebounds.

The victory concludes Arizona’s non-conference schedule. The Wildcats will break and part ways for the next 3-4 days with players heading to their hometowns while the coaches hit the recruiting trail to attend several holiday high school basketball tournaments.

The Wildcats begin Pac-12 Conference play next Thursday, Jan. 3 when they host the Colorado Buffaloes at McKale Center. Tip time is scheduled for 6 p.m. MST. The game will be televised on ESPNU.

Follow me on Twitter @GaryRandazzo, and follow the website @WSRArizona.

  • Actually it was Tapley who got his shot swatted. Man, once he turned that corner on Ashley and had that wide open lane to the rim, I thought it was all over. Then Nick came out of nowhere to block it. And what a block it was!

    One thing I couldn't stand was how everyone (commentators) kept saying how Franklin was off and would get going in the 2nd half. I was like, where's the love for the Arizona defense?! Finally maybe they'll shut their traps about sdsu, including Miles.

    What a game though, and what a way to close out the Christmas day. I got what I wanted with that win. Way to bring it home Cats!

    Time to nut up or shut up

  • Another post was started a day or two about athleticism which is very difficult to define as it is a comparative. However, I think Nick Johnson defined it well when he said he let his instincts take over and he accomplished something that other very good athletes could never accomplish. It wasn't what he did, but the speed at which his body got in sync with Tapley and he swatted a ball away that timed the shot and then the block without ever coming in contact with the shooter from an impossible angle.

    Do 360 dunks all day and I will clap politely because many can do them. Very few could turn such a reaction into a perfect action the way he did. That film should be slowed down and shown in the Hall of Fame in McKale from now on.

  • a fine point!

    Lightening fast reaction, yet perfectly under control

    This post was edited by wineknow 16 months ago

    "Arizona has no tradition" - Bill Walsh "We have a tradition of kicking Bill Walsh's ass" - Teddy Bruschi

  • It is becoming more apparent that our best lineup is with Parrom at 3, Solo at 4 (Miller swore that he didn't want to play Solo at 4 at this year), and Ashley at center. Most games against good teams prove to be too fast for Zeus and Jerrett. Zeus can't catch passes, can't score in the post and can't block shots without fouling. Jerrett is fine as a spot up shooter will help especially against zone defenses. The bottom line is that Solo works well against bigger guys guarding him and with the paint open without dead space in there. Ashley is the perfect type of athletic 5 that Miller always used at Xavier. I think it's time for everyone to realize this is our best bet moving forward. Parrom was simply awesome last night. He played with energy and got to the basket with ease along with Solo. We didn't play anywhere close to a perfect game but beat a great team. This is huge momentum leading into lead play. Now it's time for a couple of guys to step up and start contributing like Chol and Mayes (long shot) or our deep bench will start to disappear.

  • Miller has gone to that lineup in crunch time but our ceiling is much higher with 2 bigs out there if he can get more productive play from Zeus and Jerrett. They play well against lower competition they just need to learn how to play against more experienced guys who do all the little things right. I expect them to improve more and to continue to see time. You are right though when the chips down Miller goes with the guys he trusts.

  • let's not get carried away here with the young bigs. This was not a good matchup for these guys...especially playing man-to-man. SDSU 6-8/6-7 along the front and all of them can handle the ball. A 6-11/7 foot post guy is going to be at a disadvantage. We say it a basketball is about matchup's and Arizona has the personnel to match-up with anyone. Zeus and Jarrett are going to have a lot of success this year.

  • Agreed... Parrom, Solo, Ashley and Jerret are the rebounding core of this team.

    I also agree that Zues and Chol will develop, but they are not there yet. Chol is way better defensively, runs the floor better, so it surprises me he does not get more time. Zues reminds me of Nick Johnson last year. Remember he started really strong against weaker teams, but as we got into conference play he was average. Ashley and Jerret both seem far more ready for D1, they both score and rebound well...

    I do not understand the constant bagging on Mayes. He gives us good quality minutes, scores well for only playing a few minutes each night, is a better assist man than Lyons, does not turn the ball over excessively... he's also our 4th guard option playing behind two seniors and an emerging superstar who is ultimately likely going to be a better player than anyone on the entire team. I am THRILLED that Mayes is our role player, back up guy... he would start for most anyone else, except for the very elite teams. He is at least as good guys like: Ranne, Hanour, Frazier, Tebbs, Bagga, Torres, Verdejo, Lucas-Perry.....and they were all scholarship players.

    Seriously - we should be thinking about him like a Daniel Dillon or Will Bynum, Ruben Douglas (while they were at AZ) type player and in that context, he's pretty darn good. Maybe J.P. Prince is another guy who he'd compare to.

    I doubt seriously that his numbers would be much different from Shakurs if he was afforded the same minutes and experience.

    "Arizona has no tradition" - Bill Walsh "We have a tradition of kicking Bill Walsh's ass" - Teddy Bruschi

  • We have Coach Miller for floor matchups and changes, and we have a deep bench with many different combinations to choose from. He has done a great job of coaching, so pardon me if I dismiss anyone's coaching commentary on "what he should do".... :)

    Over this break, I hope the players re-set their minds to "pressure the other guy" and elimination of any idea of taking their foot off the accelerator on any possession. As good as we are, we can be a whole lot better, and our potential improvement is more in mindset than in mechanics. They just have to go for the kill on every play. They are being compared to '87-'88, and that mindset is what we need to achieve. We certainly have the makings of getting to that level.

    This is now (only) January, and I think we're a bit ahead of the learning curve, but every game now comes with a target on our backs, and this is conference play. Colorado, Utah, and the next, will all be aiming at us.

    I look to senior leadership to remove any thoughts that we're invincible, and instill the attitude that we need to destroy whoever we play....not screw around and come from behind, because that magic will eventually fail.

    We are very, very good, but we have a long way to go to reach where we want to be.



  • Your whole post was great but the opening paragraph definitely earns an upvote from me. Let CSM do what he does. He has, after all, coached his team to a 12-0 record so far.

    This post was edited by TewaWildcaT 16 months ago

    Time to nut up or shut up

  • This team reminds me of the '87/'88 team more than any other since for a number of reasons. Here's one: I've been living in Wyoming now since Jan. 1981. In '87/'88 Wyoming had it's best bball team that anyone here can remember. You may not know that this year Wyoming is currently undefeated as well as is AZ! the thing about Nick J. is that I'm starting to think that he might have the highest bball IQ of any Wildcat since Miles Simon, and speaking of Miles, I think he is really good at his new job in his new position.

  • I forgot to add that I am so happy for Kevin Parrom! a really great season just couldn't happen to a more diserving human being!

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