Anyone that watched the final possession of No. 3 Arizona’s 68-67 victory over No. 17 San Diego State will ask the same question: Where did he come from?
SDSU’s Chase Tapley proved, once again, why he is one of the nation’s most underrated players, as he led the Aztecs with 19 points on Christmas night, hitting a pair of tough, contested threes in the final minutes. But after Mark Lyons knocked down two free throws with 13.1 seconds left to put Arizona up 68-67, Tapley found the ball in his hands with a chance to knock off the Wildcats. Tapley ran off of a pair of high-ball screens, turning the corner and finding what appeared to be a wide open lane to the basket.
But as Tapley went up to lay the ball in with his left hand, Nick Johnson exploded — quite literally, it looked like he was a halftime performer jumping off of a trampoline — towards the goal, swatting the shot off the back board and locking up the win for the Wildcats.
It was an unbelievable way to cap off what turned into a terrific second half of basketball between the two teams that just may be competing for West Coast supremacy.
What’s scary about Arizona right now is that they are only going to get better as their freshmen big men continue to develop. Kaleb Tarczewski didn’t have a single point or rebound in 18 minutes tonight. Grant Jerrett had one point and six boards in 18 minutes. Brandon Ashley was the only one that played well, as he finished with a respectable nine points and seven boards. And that came against a team that’s known for having a lack of size up front.
Those three big guys have a way to go to get better, but they are still young. They’ll get there.
And with guys like Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom on the roster, the “there” that they need to get to isn’t all that high.
The perks of having seniors on your roster is that they can help carry your team through tough times, keeping your head above water as the more talented youngsters learn how to pull their own weight. Hill and Parrom are as good as anyone in the country when it comes to all-around ability and leadership. Throw in the likes of Lyons and Johnson — who sealed the win with the free throws and the block — and you can see why the Wildcats are 12-0 for the first time since 1987-88 despite their front court issues.
Pac-12 teams must be licking their chops.
Because now that Arizona owns wins over Florida and San Diego State, they are now a target.
Every single league team will be thinking “RPI booster” whenever they face Arizona.
That’s not a bad thing for the league.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.