Posted December 26, 2012 on AP on Fox
Nick Johnson blocked a layup by Chase Tapley in the closing seconds Tuesday night as No. 3 Arizona rallied from an eight-point deficit in the second half and remained undefeated with a 68-67 win over No. 17 San Diego State in the championship game of the Diamond Head Classic. Mark Lyons hit a pair of free throws with 13 seconds remaining for the last points by Arizona (12-0), which is off to its best start in 25 years. Tapley led the Aztecs (11-2) with 19 points, and he looked to have the game-winner when he found a clear path down the left side of the lane. Johnson, however, came racing over from the 3-point line and swatted the ball away, the buzzer sounding during a battle for the loose ball. The Wildcats celebrated at midcourt, their first win against a ranked opponent away from home since beating Gonzaga in December 2008. Solomon Hill kept Arizona in the game and finished with 21 points. He was voted the tournament MVP. Jamaal Franklin, the leading scorer for San Diego State, ended his streak of 32 straight games scoring in double figures, and it was costly. He finished with nine points, making 1 of 2 free throws with 31 seconds remaining to give the Aztecs a 67-66 lead. Lyons drove the lane on the next possession and was fouled by Skylar Spencer and made both free throws. Neither team led by more than two over the final 10 minutes. Arizona won despite shooting only 37 percent from the field, including 5 of 20 on 3-pointers. After turning the ball over just three times in the first half, Arizona had two turnovers that helped the Aztecs go on an 8-0 run to start the second period for a 35-29 lead. Franklin got his first points of the game on a pair of free throws, Xavier Thames made a 3-pointer, and Tapley converted a three-point play off yet another Arizona turnover. After a sluggish, defensive battle, the pace and quality of the game picked up the rest of the way. The Wildcats called a timeout trailing 41-33, and then went on an 18-9 run over the next six minutes to regain the lead. Hill was always in the picture, with some great hustle by Brandon Ashley, who scored inside and converted a three-point play on quick ball movement. Arizona regained the lead on Hill's two free throws, and he made two more with just under six minutes remaining for a 60-58 Arizona lead. The game was tied six more times the rest of the way. Kevin Parrom scored 17 points for the Wildcats, including a 3-pointer from deep on the baseline with 2:16 remaining that answered a 3 by Tapley. Johnson finished with 11 points for Arizona. Arizona never trailed in the opening half, but after building a 16-9 lead on Johnson's 3-pointer, it never had control. That was to be expected from two defensive-minded teams, which have held their opponents to 38 percent shooting this year, and made each other work for every shot. The Wildcats shot 29 percent in the opening half. The Aztecs missed their first seven shots, finally getting on track behind Tapley, whose 10 points came from inside and outside. It was spirited, and it was sloppy. There were three missed dunks and badly missed layups in transition as both teams looked out of control at times. Franklin, coming off his fifth double-double of the year in a semifinal win over Indiana State, was shut out in the opening half and attempted only two shots. Hill led Arizona early, twice picking up offensive rebounds for easy scores and hitting a pretty fadeaway from the right baseline as the Wildcats built a 24-18 advantage. That didn't last. Xavier Thames made a pair of free throws, JJ O'Brien scored inside, and Tapley converted a three-point play in transition to make it 29-27 at the half. With a chance to tie or take the lead, Arizona's defense was so strong that the only shot San Diego State could get off was a 3-pointer from beyond 25 feet by Winston Shepard that hit the top of the backboard.
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