Although Arizona visits the No. 2 team in the nation next week, it’s unlikely the No. 19 Wildcats will allow themselves to look past Saturday’s game with San Diego State after suffering through their worst offensive game of the season the last time out.
Arizona (8-2) has won a season-high five straight, including a 52-49 win at UNLV on Wednesday. Jordan Hill had 16 points and a career-high 19 rebounds while Jawann McClellan had 12 points, but the Wildcats were held to their lowest point total of the season while shooting a season-low 34.6 percent.
Leading scorer Jerryd Bayless, who averages 18.8 points, was held to a season-worst points on 2-of-10 shooting.
Unable to rely consistently on their offense, the Wildcats focused on their defense, holding the Runnin’ Rebels to just 31.0 percent shooting. After limiting them to just four points over the final 8:07, Arizona sealed the win on McClellan’s 3-pointer with 26 seconds remaining.
“Coach (Kevin O’Neill) told us to keep shooting and that one would fall in,” McClellan said. “Luckily mine did. Basketball is a game of percentages and we knew things would eventually swing our way.”
The Wildcats are averaging 75.7 points while shooting 48.9 percent for the season.
“I’m proud of my guys,” said O’Neill, who is coaching the Wildcats this season as Hall of Famer Lute Olson is away on a leave of absence for personal reasons. “We hung in there tonight to win this game. I knew we’d have a chance if we could keep it within striking distance.”
Arizona visits No. 2 Memphis next Saturday, but the Wildcats must first focus on San Diego State (9-2), which is coming off an 86-76 win over Navy on Monday for its best 11-game start in 38 seasons at the Division I level. The Aztecs shot 51.8 percent for the game, but trailed by eight early in the second half before taking control with a late 13-0 run.
Lorrenzo Wade had 18 points and Billy White added 17 points and seven rebounds.
“Things just started clicking,” said Kyle Spain, who had 14 points and nine boards. “It was all about the defensive effort.”
The Aztecs have three players averaging in double figures, led by Wade at 14.4 points. They have won their last two contests against ranked opponents - beating Air Force and BYU last season.
Coach Steve Fisher said he believes the free-throw line could be a deciding factor against Arizona. The Wildcats have outscored opponents 171-101 at the line and have shot 79 more free throws than their opponents.
“We’re going to have to guard without fouling,” Fisher said, “make them take hard shots and limit them as much as we can to one shot … We cannot give this team 30 free throws.”
Arizona has a 18-5 advantage in the all-time series between the teams. The Wildcats have won the last five overall and the last five in Tuscon. The Aztecs’ last won 90-80 on Dec. 9, 1971.
Arizona, which has won 12 of the 13 meetings in Tuscon, won 69-48 last Dec. 9 in San Diego.