UA's last, biggest test in Hawaii: San Diego St.
DEC 24, 2012 10:12p ET
The 17th-ranked Aztecs and unbeaten No. 3 Arizona have each won 11 straight overall heading into the championship game of the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu.
San Diego State (11-1) hasn't lost to a team from the Pac-12 since a 55-52 defeat at Arizona State on Dec. 19, 2009. The run includes five wins over Utah while the Utes were still in the Mountain West, but it also features a 61-57 victory over then-No. 23 Arizona last season that snapped the Wildcats' 22-game home win streak.
While the Aztecs still have their top four scorers from that team, the Wildcats seem to be improved despite losing two of their top three leaders in points from 2011-12.
That's partially because Arizona (11-0) has added Xavier transfer Mark Lyons, averaging a team-high 13.8 points. An impressive recruiting class brought in freshmen starters Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley, a high school teammate of struggling Aztecs freshman Winston Shepard.
Arizona has an opportunity to equal the school's best start in the last 80 years. The 1987-88 team began 12-0 en route to reaching the Final Four, and that remains the best beginning since the 1931-32 squad opened 16-0.
The Wildcats have cruised to two wins in this tournament, beating East Tennessee State 73-53 on Saturday and Miami 69-50 on Sunday after building double-digit halftime leads both times.
"We can always get better. Nobody is perfect," Lyons insisted. "We're jelling real well together."
Ashley was the only Wildcat to reach double figures in points Saturday with 16 and 10 rebounds before Lyons' 19 points led three Arizona players with at least 10 one night later.
The Wildcats have committed 34 turnovers in the two games, and that's an area in which they are seeking improvement.
"We're trying to be a team that can do some special things, and I think that we want to be hard on ourselves," said coach Sean Miller, who recorded his 200th career win Sunday. "There's always things that we can do better."
Arizona has outrebounded nine of its last 10 opponents -- eight by at least 10 boards -- and has an average rebound margin of plus-22.5 in this tournament.
The Aztecs' three-guard lineup, meanwhile, has paid dividends in this event, with all three scoring in double digits in both games.
Senior Chase Tapley scored a career-high 33 points in Saturday's 80-58 rout of San Francisco. Jamaal Franklin had 19 points and 15 boards the next day in a 62-55 win over Indiana State.
Sunday's win marked only the third time the Aztecs have prevailed by fewer than 10 points all season.
"We need games like that for later on," Tapley said. "It gives us good experience."
San Diego State has not lost since a season-opening 62-49 defeat to No. 9 Syracuse. The Aztecs can record their first 12-game win streak since starting 20-0 two seasons ago.
Tapley scored a game-high 17 points and James Rahon added 13 in last season's win over Arizona, which shot a season-low 33.3 percent in that contest. Solomon Hill scored a team-high 14 points for the Wildcats, who never recovered after falling into a 21-4 hole.