Arizona vs. San Diego State final score: Running the Aztecs afoul

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

Despite foul trouble, the Arizona Wildcats controlled the San Diego State Aztecs throughout behind strong outings from Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon.

It wasn't without its hurdles, it came with a few asterisks but the Arizona Wildcats' led throughout a 69-60 win at San Diego State on Thursday and survived all the things that could've gone wrong.

Anytime the Aztecs drove by the Wildcats, they challenged shots at the rim. No matter how many misses they had themselves, there were often tips above the rim. More often than not, it didn't result in points.

Five players pushed through foul trouble and had three or more fouls before 10 minutes remained in the game. Brandon Ashley, Nick Johnson, Aaron Gordon, Kaleb Tarczewski and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson played through the issues against an SDSU squad that couldn't buy jump shots for most of the night.

Gabe York and Ashley, the two most improved player to this point, both struggled with confidence or with foul trouble.

But whenever and whatever something went against Arizona, the Wildcats rebounded.

Take when SDSU guard Xavier Thames hit two threes in the final 10 minutes to cut the lead from 10 to seven. The Wildcats answered. After Thames hit the second of those three-pointers, Gordon's fourth foul with 3:32 put San Diego State on the line, where it cut the lead to six. Johnson scored on a scooping drive but then fouled a jump-shooter beyond the three-point arc the next time down.

With Arizona leading by four with 1:21 left and with an out-of-bounds play on the baseline, Sean Miller called a lob play he's called many times. Johnson seemed to draw the defense's eye as the first alley-oop option, but behind him Aaron Gordon followed, flushing the lob for a dunk and getting fouled at the same time.

Such up-and-down momentum swings made Thursday night.

It was all the Wildcats needed to pull out a gutsy road win in hostile territory.

Johnson led the way with 23 points on 8-for-15 shooting, and Gordon was the only other Arizona player in double-figures with 16. The latter added a team-high eight rebounds and three steals.

Arizona opened a 24-11 lead 11 minutes into the game and after a run by the Aztecs finished the first half on another burst to lead 39-28 at the break.

An SDSU three-pointer in the final minutes of the first half was just the second of the game, but the Aztecs also only took five threes in the first half. Part of it was UA's defense, but it also didn't help that SDSU was passive to take the threes, or even longer twos.

For an Arizona team whose experience was questioned by its own coach, the victory said a lot. Of the many players that could step up on any given night, it was often Gordon and Johnson, the two likely heroes. While they had their rough spots -- Johnson had a late turnover and a questionable three-point airball -- the end result put most positives on their nightly grades than negatives.

Gordon, Johnson, Tarczewski and Ashley finished with four fouls apiece, while Hollis-Jefferson fouled out. And it was Hollis-Jefferson who had the most promising bench performance, finishing with seven points and five rebounds.

The Wildcats only shot 36.7 percent from the floor in the second half and 44.6 percent for the game, yet they held SDSU to 36 percent on Thursday and 29.6 percent in the second half. Arizona, bigger in size than San Diego State, also had a plus-11 advantage on the rebounding front, which included 13 offensive boards but only 12 points to show for it.

Arizona hit 3-of-13 three-pointers Thursday, yet its savvy never wavered even though the momentum -- and the complexion thanks to the foul trouble -- changed.

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