Arizona vs. San Diego State: Wildcats win Diamond Head Classic thriller

USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats dropped the San Diego State Aztecs in a Diamond Head Classic thriller Christmas night.

Giddiness appeared to make the first 20 or so minutes of the Diamond Head Classic final between the Arizona Wildcats and San Diego State Aztecs a slopfest.

And giddiness was how any fan watching felt down the stretch.

Nick Johnson got caught behind the second of two screens with UA leading 68-67 with the seconds winding down, and his man, Chase Tapley, got to the rim as the Wildcats' big men were stretched to the outside. Johnson chased down Tapley, got the angle to the rim and blocked his shot, the ball careening to the perimeter as the final buzzer went off.

No. 3 Arizona survived in dramatic fashion once again, beating the No. 17 team on Tuesday night to win the Diamond Head Classic Championship.

Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom powered the Wildcats, who struggled offensively against an athletic and well-coached defense. Hill scored 21 points, grabbed six rebounds and despite missed free throws early and late showed the leadership abilities when things got testy.

Parrom came off the bench and for the second game in a row changed the feel of the flow. Though it was hectic and mistake-heavy, the Wildcats controlled the game. He ended the night with 17 points and five rebounds.

Arizona held a 29-27 halftime lead and shot below 30 percent while recording three assists on 10 made field goals. And that included a bagel of a scoring night from Jamaal Franklin. The 18-point per game scorer would hit his first bucket at the beginning of the second half to tie it, and in taking their first lead of the game, SDSU went on a 14-4 run to open up a 41-33 lead.

Franklin finished with nine points, six assists and eight rebounds, but he only hit 2-of-6 shots and was often in foul trouble.

The Aztecs held an eight-point lead at a couple of points in the second half, but Hill's free throws gave Arizona a 51-50 lead with 10 minutes to play. After some back-and-forth, a three-pointer by Parrom that came from a drive-and-kick from Hill with two minutes to play gave the Wildcats a 65-64 lead.

The Wildcats shot 37.3 percent from the floor on the night, and stagnant ball movement combining with sound SDSU defense hurt. Hill was about the only option at times, with his draws of double-teams in the post and drive-and-kicks propelling the few opportunities.

And despite Franklin's struggles, fellow backcourt mate Tapley had that look in his eye throughout. He finished with 19 points and hit three huge three-pointers. He and Franklin outplayed the UA backcourt of Johnson and Lyons -- it didn't matter.

Lyons had two early turnovers, foul trouble and didn't initial much offense outside one late drive and dumpoff to Brandon Ashley. He finished with nine points, and Johnson ended with 11 on 3-of-13 shooting.

Ashley grabbed seven rebounds and had nine points, Jerrett grabbed six more boards, and Kaleb Tarczewski hardly made a mark. They repeatedly were met at the rim by SDSU's big men, something that was different from the points in the paint from Arizona's small forwards.

Hill and Parrom kept Arizona afloat just enough despite so-so to poor games from the backcourt and the young big men struggling on both ends.

And so the Wildcats moved to 12-0 on the year, their new No. 3 ranking looking quite legitimate with a resume appearing stronger by the day. After the Diamond Head Classic this week, it's a wonder how badly it'll have to go for Arizona to finally lose.

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