In their third game in three days, Arizona fought hard to the finish and wore down San Diego State 61-59 in the Maui Invitational championship game. The Wildcats reinforced their dominance over the SDSU basketball program with yet another win, handing them their third loss in two seasons. Arizona extended their non-conference winning streak to 33 games. longest in the country.
Neither team led by more than 6 points in what was a close game throughout. In many ways the script was similar to the Wildcats’ win over Kansas State yesterday, with both teams trading the lead and Arizona eventually wearing the opponent down over the final minutes.
The Wildcats shot poorly from the field, converting just 19 of 52 shots for 36.5%. They found it tough to score in the first half, shooting 11 of 33, but still went into halftime with a 32-31 lead.
Stanley Johnson showed why he’s earned the nickname “Stanimal,” displaying a ferocity on offense and defense in his best game of the year. The freshman lead the team with 18 points and 9 rebounds, including some clutch free throw shooting down the stretch. He was 9 of 10 from the free throw line for the game, and played a team high 37 minutes.
The Wildcats struggled with foul trouble, with starting guards TJ McConnell and Gabe York both forced to sit early with multiple fouls. Kaleb Tarczewski also was limited by fouls, eventually fouling out with under 2 minutes to play.
While Johnson was a force on the wing, his counterpart Rondae Hollis-Jefferson contributed a spirited effort as well. RHJ chipped in 14 points, 6 rebounds, and three blocks. His defense on the perimeter was stifling, and he denied the SDSU guards consistently.
Perhaps the most crucial moment of the games was late in the second half, when Johnson forced consecutive turnovers off Aztec inbound plays. His intensity reached new heights in this game, and his effort was what gave Arizona the extra edge to put the game away.
The Wildcats forced 14 turnovers, converting them into 22 points. By comparison, the Aztecs had just 9 points off 11 Arizona turnovers.
Though they weren’t always executing sharply, Arizona showed toughness throughout the Maui Invitational and took a step forward as a team getting three wins on a neutral court.
The Wildcats will return to Tucson and face Gardner-Webb on Tuesday, December 2nd.