Of the eight Sweet 16 match-ups being played Thursday and Friday night, two are rematches of regular season games. Of course there’s No. 4 Louisville and No. 8 Kentucky, with those two teams playing every season, but there’s also No. 1 Arizona taking on No. 4 San Diego State in Anaheim. The Wildcats won the first meeting back on November 14, 69-60, with the game being a closer contest than the final margin would indicate.
How much can be taken from a game played that early in the season and applied to an NCAA tournament rematch is up for debate, with both teams being different (and better) outfits than they were in November. Arizona won’t have Brandon Ashley, who accounted for six points and six rebounds in the first meeting, but they’ve certainly adjusted to that personnel loss in recent weeks.
Freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has been one of the best sixth men in the country, and the starting lineup led by national Player of the Year candidate Nick Johnson, point guard T.J. McConnell and forward Aaron Gordon has continued to play well. As for the Aztecs there’s one major personnel difference that has received some much-deserved attention in the days leading up to this game.
That difference: the emergence of Dwayne Polee II as a capable scoring option off the bench.
How far has Polee come this season? The St. John’s transfer didn’t even leave the bench for the first meeting between these two teams. But instead of getting frustrated the St. John’s transfer remained positive and continued to work, earning the opportunity to join the rotation and the work has paid off in recent weeks.
“He never, ever did anything other than cheer for his teammates, and smile when he was in the locker room, the hardest thing in the world to do, especially when you’re that ballyhooed,” Fisher said during the team’s press conference Wednesday. “He was sensational. Then when he started to get significant minutes, he played well, and obviously he’s been crucial to the recent success of this team. He’s been terrific.”
Averaging 8.4 points and 3.3 rebounds in just over 17 minutes of action per game this season, Polee’s contributed 14.2 points and 4.6 rebounds in San Diego State’s last five games with the Aztecs going 4-1 during this stretch. And in four of those games Polee’s played at least 27 minutes per game. Always a very good athlete with a high motor, Polee also looks more confident as a perimeter shooter and has shot 10-for-19 from beyond the arc.
Beating Arizona will be a tough task for San Diego State; there are a number of good reasons why the Wildcats received a one-seed and stand as one of the favorites to win the national title. But that doesn’t mean the goal’s an impossible one for the Aztecs. And if Polee can continue his solid play of late, thus supplementing the production of Xavier Thames, San Diego State is capable of advancing.