Arizona Basketball

Arizona Wildcats’ guard Nick Johnson finishes strong to lead program to 10th Elite Eight


The Arizona Wildcats pulled from all of their resources by grinding out a 70-64 victory over San Diego State in the Sweet 16 tonight at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.

With leading scorer and Pac-12 Player of the Year Nick Johnson missing his first 10 field goal attempts, Arizona managed to stay close enough until Johnson awoke. The junior All-American guard scored 15 of Arizona’s last 16 points — including eight consecutive free throws in the last 1:05 — as Arizona survived to play Wisconsin in the Elite Eight on Saturday.

“I guarantee you Sean Miller will call this one of his most relieving wins,” TBS commentator Steve Kerr, an Arizona legend, said as the game came to an end with an exuberant Miller celebrating with his players.

“We were tested in a huge way,” Miller told TBS’s Craig Sager after the game. “They’re the most physical, hard-playing, athletic team that we’ve faced. When we came out of the gates, we knew right away this was going to be a hard-fought game.

“For us to overcome Nick not shooting well, for Nick to overcome that and make the free throws … we overcame a lot. Kaleb (Tarczewski) with his foul trouble. To get to the finish line is a testament to our resolve and our toughness. We’re really excited to be still alive.”

Miller and his brother Archie Miller now become the first brother combination to coach in the Elite Eight in the same season. This will be Miller’s third Elite Eight as a coach, the second at Arizona. The Wildcats lost to UConn at Anaheim in the 2011 Elite Eight in Miller’s second season.

Arizona will try to win its first Elite Eight at Anaheim in its fourth attempt. Other than the loss to UConn, the Wildcats lost there to Utah 76-51 in 1998 and Kansas 78-75 in 2003.

San Diego State has yet to advance to the Elite Eight but it looked primed for the opportunity leading by as many as eight points with 16:40 left in the game.

When Johnson ended his shooting drought with 2:46 remaining, the Wildcats took their biggest lead of the game, 56-51. That indicates his teammates stepped up, including backcourt mate T.J. McConnell, whose steal resulted in Johnson’s first basket on a layup.

Johnson, who went 2-for-12 from the field, increased the lead to 59-53 with a three-pointer with 1:52 remaining. Johnson’s last-minute free throws kept the Aztecs at bay.

McConnell finished with 11 points, four rebounds and three assists with only two turnovers.

Gabe York made a critical three-pointer, breaking a shooting drought, to cut San Diego State’s lead to 45-44 with 9:23 left. York’s only field goal in six attempts sparked Arizona to convert on four consecutive possessions to take a 50-49 lead with 7:21 left in the game.

Arizona’s defense, meanwhile, shut down San Diego State late. The Aztecs made only one field goal from 8:19 left until 1:16 left when Dwayne Polee made a three-pointer to cut Arizona’s lead to 61-56. The Aztecs missed seven shots in that span, including four from three-point range.

Aaron Gordon had 15 points and seven rebounds. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson had 15 points and five rebounds before fouling out with 4:42 left in the game. At that point, Arizona led 52-50.

The Wildcats proceeded to go on a 9-3 run fueled by seven points from Johnson as Arizona built a 61-53 lead with 1:30 left.

Arizona battled back despite a first half that included Johnson shooting 0-for-7 from the field and San Diego State outrebounding the Wildcats 24-14. Arizona and San Diego State each had 14 rebounds in the second half. Josh Davis burned the Wildcats with 11 rebounds in the first half. He was subdued with four in the second half.

San Diego State took its biggest lead of the first half (32-24) with 3:26 left. The Aztecs could never muster a knockout blow, however, failing to score the remainder of the half. Gordon and McConnell made aggressive shots at the basket to trim the lead to 32-28 at intermission.

Johnson finally made a basket at intermission but it was waved off, a split-second late as the clock expired before his near-halfcourt heave. That shot was late, but Johnson’s production in the end was … in the nick of time. publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes articles for Bleacher Report and Lindy’s College Sports.


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