Maui, HI (SportsNetwork.com) - Two undefeated nationally-ranked teams will square off in the Maui Invitational championship game on Wednesday night, as the second-ranked Arizona Wildcats and the 15th-ranked San Diego State Aztecs do battle at the Lahaina Civic Center.
Arizona advanced to the semifinals following an easy first-round victory over Missouri, 72-53. The Wildcats had a much more difficult time with Kansas State on Tuesday but held on for a 72-68 victory to move to 5-0 on the campaign.
SDSU were put to the test in its first-round matchup with BYU, as it needed two overtime periods to claim a 92-87 victory. Things came much easier for the Aztecs in the semifinals, however, as they dismissed Pittsburgh, 74-57, to improve to 5-0 on the season.
These programs met in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament last March, with Arizona coming out on top, 70-64, to extend its lead in the all-time series to 23-7.
After battling through five ties and 12 lead changes in its semifinal-round bout, the Wildcats took what seemed to be comfortable nine-point advantage midway through the second half only for Kansas State to climb back to make it a one-possession game late, but the Wildcats knocked down 6-of-8 at the foul line over the final 22 seconds to hold on for the win. They shot an outstanding 53.3 percent from the field and were paced by Kaleb Tarczewski's 18 points on 7-of-9 from the field. Gabe York (15 points), Stanley Johnson (14) and Brandon Ashley (10) also scored in double figures, while T.J. McConnell handed out eight assists.
The triumph was the first close victory of the season for Arizona, which boasts a +16.2 scoring margin through five games while outshooting its opponents from the field, 50 percent to 39.8 percent. Ashley leads the way with 14.0 ppg, while Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (13.8 ppg) comes off the bench to shoot 66.7 percent from the floor. Johnson brings 12.6 ppg to the table and McConnell fills the stat sheet on a regular basis with 7.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 6.8 apg and 3.4 spg.
The Aztecs took a convincing 39-25 lead into intermission of their semifinal- round contest and never broke a sweat in the second half en route to the 17- point victory. They shot a red-hot 58.7 percent from the field despite making just 3-of-11 from 3-point range, and they forced 17 Pitt turnovers while committing just nine miscues themselves. Trey Kell paced the winning effort with 15 points, doing so on 7-of-9 from the field. Winston Shepard and Angelo Chol chipped in with 13 and 10 points, respectively.
The strong shooting performance was a great sign for San Diego State, which came into the semifinals shooting less than 39.5 percent from the field on the season for a modest 68.8 ppg. Its outstanding defense, however, has been well- established (55.2 ppg). Winston Shepard is the leading scorer with 11.4 ppg, while Ageel Quinn (10.8 ppg) is right on his heels. J.J. O'Brien is a mainstay in the frontcourt with 10.2 ppg and 6.6 rpg.