TUCSON, Ariz. (AP)—Arizona’s opponents know they have to cope with Jerryd Bayless and Chase Budinger.
Now they’re going to have to figure out a way to stop Jordan Hill.
The sophomore center had 15 points and 10 rebounds as No. 19 Arizona defeated San Diego State 74-58 on Saturday, the Wildcats’ sixth straight victory. It was the third double-double of the season and second in a row for the 6-foot-10 Hill.
“When I step on the court, I just think that no big man can stop me,” Hill said. “I know that I’m hard to stop, so I’m just going to go out there and do what I have to do.”
Bayless had 15 points, Budinger added 13 and Nic Wise had 12 as the Wildcats (9-2) tuned up for their Dec. 29 trip to No. 2 Memphis.
Hill was 6-of-7 from the field to lead the Wildcats in scoring for the third time in four games. He also had two assists, a blocked shot and a steal.
After starting only 12 games last season, Hill is quietly becoming a force for the Wildcats, whose inside game was expected to be a glaring flaw entering the season.
Coach Kevin O’Neill said Hill’s conditioning has improved since training camp, and he is learning how to avoid foul trouble.
“The hardest thing is starting and being an accountable player, and that’s at any level,” O’Neill said. “This is Jordan’s first time starting (regularly) and being an accountable player. And because of that, it’s taken him a while to get his feet on the ground. But I think he’s starting to gain some poise, he’s starting to gain some experience about where to be on the court so he can avoid fouls.
“All in all, he’s making some progress that is badly needed for us,” O’Neill said.
This was the Arizona’s second game since the school announced that O’Neill would succeed Hall of Famer Lute Olson when he retires. O’Neill took over as interim coach when Olson went on a personal leave of absence Nov. 4.
Olson hired O’Neill last spring to help the Wildcats improve their defense. They have done that.
The Wildcats had limited their last two opponents to 50 points or fewer; last year, Arizona held only two opponents under 50 all season.
“I think we’re developing a little bit of a camaraderie on the defensive end, a little pride that makes you keep playing hard,” O’Neill said.
Arizona held San Diego State to 32.2 percent shooting.
“We didn’t shoot well,” Aztecs coach Steve Fisher said. “I don’t know if it was them or us. We just couldn’t hit shots.”
Kyle Spain scored 20 points for the Aztecs (9-3), who have dropped two of their last three.
Though they were having trouble scoring, the Aztecs wouldn’t give in. Trailing by 10 early in the second half, they pulled within 42-38 on Billy White’s putback.
But just as it appeared that a holiday upset might be brewing, the Wildcats answered with a 14-6 run capped by Wise’s 3-pointer from the top of the key with 8:03 to go.
Wise hit another 3-pointer a minute later to put the Wildcats up 59-48. Wise had only six shots from beyond the arc in Arizona’s first 10 games.
“I have to knock those shots down to take the pressure off Chase and Jerryd,” Wise said.
Hill can also take pressure off Budinger and Bayless; if opposing defenses focus on the perimeter, Hill can burn them inside.
Hill’s dunk and free throw gave Arizona a 64-52 lead with 5:31 to go, and the Aztecs weren’t within single digits the rest of the way.
“He’s much more versatile,” Wise said of Hill. “He’s growing, and he’s being more aggressive with his shot.”
Arizona defeated San Diego State for the sixth straight time and improved to 19-5 all-time against the Aztecs.