San Diego, CA – The sixth-ranked Arizona Wildcats face a tough early season road test as they will clash with the San Diego State Aztecs in a non-league battle at Viejas Arena.
Although they are only two games into the season, the Wildcats have lived up to their billing with wins in each of the first two matchups. Both came at home for the Wildcats, who got past Cal Poly (73-62) in the opener and then routed Long Beach State (91-57). The Wildcats had 22 assists to just 11 turnovers and also shot at a 58.6 percent clip in the win over the 49ers. Arizona was a 7-4 team away from home last year but won both of its true road contests outside of conference action. Arizona will be back home next week for the first two games of the NIT Season Tip Off before heading to New York for the last two games of the event.
San Diego State is beginning this season on a three-game homestand and the first matchup of the stretch came against UC Riverside. The Aztecs had no trouble with the Highlanders as they rolled to a 77-41 victory at Viejas Arena. The Aztecs shot at just a 41.8 percent rate in the win but had a 27-8 edge from the free-throw line and also forced 21 turnovers and turned those miscues into 18 points. San Diego State was also the better team in transition, outscoring UC Riverside, 15-0, in points off turnovers. San Diego State had just one loss in 15 tries at home last season and the team will enjoy that homecourt advantage again next Wednesday against San Diego Christian.
Mark Lyons hit a pair of free throws to push Arizona ahead and Xavier Thames missed a last second shot as Arizona secured a 68-67 win these teams met last year on Christmas Day. The win ended a two-game winning streak for the Aztecs in the series. Arizona leads the all-time series by a 21-7 margin.
Even though he has not put up incredible numbers so far, Aaron Gordon, the blue chip prize of Sean Miller's recruiting class, has largely lived up to the hype in his first two games as a Wildcat. Gordon (13.5 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 2.5 bpg) is averaging a double-double in two games and is also blocking nearly three shots per game. In the win over Long Beach State, Gordon finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds. T.J. McConnell, another new addition, who was brought in to play the point, is also performing well. McConnell clearly knows his role as he isn't scoring much, but with 14 assists in two games, he is more than capable of distributing to the Wildcats' scorers. Other than Gordon, that group has included returning starters Nick Johnson (12.5 ppg) and Brandon Ashley (13.5 ppg, 8.0 rpg), as well as center Kaleb Tarczewski (10.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg). Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (8.5 ppg) has provided a spark off the bench.
Defense and transition offense were the key to the Aztecs' win over UC Riverside in the season opener. Leading the way were guards Thames and Winston Shepard. Thames scored a game-high 15 points and also had four steals, while Shepard added 10 points and did his best to facilitate the offense with five assists. Josh Davis (11 points, eight rebounds) a former double-double machine from Tulane, also had a hand in the victory. However, there is still a lot of work for the Aztecs on the offensive end. If it weren't for the team's attacking mentality that got them to the free-throw line so often, the outcome may have been much tighter. San Diego State shot just 41.8 percent from the field overall and also had just 4-of-13 shots from beyond the arc.