- Image 1 of 2
- Image 2 of 2
SAN DIEGO – San Diego State was content to look at silver linings Thursday night.
Breaking in three new starters and still looking for the right rotation, the Aztecs hung in with No. 6 Arizona before falling 69-60 to the Wildcats.
"We will benefit from it," San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said. "We will learn from it. The game you played with that team, you want to win. But you want to say we are going to be better as a result of playing the game and I do believe that we will."
Arizona's Nick Johnson scored 23 points and freshman Aaron Gordon added 16 points and eight rebounds to lead the Wildcats.
JJ O'Brien and Xavier Thames had 19 points each for the Aztecs (1-1), who had won two of the last three meetings with Arizona (3-0), the loss coming in the final seconds of last year's Diamond Head Classic.
"We fought hard and we can take this as a learning experience," said O'Brien, who set a career-high in scoring. "They are top six in the country and we fought. So it says a lot about the team. We would have loved to win, but that was a good start. I think we are going to have a really good team and we are only going to get better from here."
Arizona had a 14-point lead midway through the second half, but San Diego State rallied, closing to within four points on Thames' layup with less than 2 minutes remaining.
Gordon then had a soaring dunk off an inbounds pass to put away the Aztecs in the game at Viejas Arena.
"We fought hard in the second half, we gave ourselves hope," Thames said. "I am proud of our effort in the second half, so we just have to come out like that in the next game for 40 minutes."
Arizona prevailed despite four players being in foul trouble early in the second half.
The Wildcats used an 8-0 run — with a 3-pointer by Gordon the big shot — to take a 24-11 lead. Gordon went to the bench when he picked up his second foul and the Aztecs took advantage to get within six points on two free throws by Matt Shrigley with 4:33 left in the half.
"When you play against a team in an environment like this, you have to stay in control and poised," Arizona coach Sean Miller said.
Johnson's three-point play put Arizona in front 31-22.
Gabe York, Arizona's sparkplug off the bench, made a driving layup and another basket to give the Wildcats their largest lead of the half at 39-25. Shrigley hit a 3-pointer just before the halftime buzzer to cut the deficit to 11 points.
"We weren't quite good enough tonight," Fisher said.
But the Aztecs earned the Wildcats' respect.
"(SDSU) is a great team," Johnson said. "They are going to win a lot of games this year."