Leave it to San Diego State guard Chase Tapley to sum it up.
”I love McKale Center,” he said.
Given what’s happened the last three times he’s played there, it’s easy to see why.
Tapley scored 17 points, San Diego State bolted to a 17-point lead in the opening minutes and the Aztecs never trailed in a 61-57 victory over No. 23 Arizona on Wednesday night that broke the Wildcats’ 22-game home winning streak.
The Aztecs had won here, though, twice in last season’s NCAA Tournament to advance to the regional semifinals. However, this is a much different San Diego State team, with Tapley the lone starter back from that 34-3 squad.
”I don’t think I’ve ever won in here against Arizona,” Aztecs coach Steve Fisher said. ”I won in here last year, but I don’t think I’ve ever won against Arizona. You beat a good, talented team in a building that’s very, very difficult for anyone to win in, you have to be proud.”
The Aztecs have won seven straight games against teams from the Pac-12 Conference.
James Rahon added 13 points for the Aztecs (6-1), who beat Arizona in Tucson for only the second time in 15 attempts. Fisher’s San Diego State teams had gone 0-3 before Wednesday night.
”They had a great defensive game plan, made it hard for us to score anywhere close to the basket,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. ”And on a night where we really needed to make threes, we just didn’t have an answer.”
The Wildcats’ last home loss was 73-69 to Arizona State on Feb. 21, 2010. A ranked Arizona team had not been beaten at McKale by an unranked opponent since Oregon did it on Jan. 5, 2008.
”The homecourt streak is everything,” Miller said. ”Winning at home in college basketball usually means you have a heck of a season.”
A lot of the Actecs’ talent is gone, but those players left a winning attitude.
”You’ve got to believe that you’re good,” Fisher said. ”And when you believe that, you have a chance to go out and do it.”
Fisher credited the team’s leader, fifth-year senior Tim Shelton, who is playing after four major knee surgeries.
”He drew, I think, six charges tonight,” Fisher said. ”And he’s taken at least 15, maybe 20, in the first six or seven games.”
Fisher said this ”is a sensational team to be with.”
”You never have to worry ‘Is he going to be on time for the bus? Is he going to be on time for the meeting?’ They’re always early,” he said. ”They like one another. Sometimes less is more. We’ve got nine guys, so they all know they’re going to play.”
The difference came from long range. San Diego State made 8 of 12 three-pointers — 3 of 4 by Tapley — to just 5 of 26 for the Wildcats (4-2), who lost their second game in a row.
Solomon Hill scored 14 points for Arizona, but was just 4 of 12 from the field as the Wildcats shot 33 percent overall. Freshmen Josiah Turner and Nick Johnson added 10 apiece for Arizona. Coach Sean Miller called it the best game of Turner’s young career.
The Aztecs bolted to a 21-4 lead and were up 29-14 when Alec Williams banked in a 10-footer with 7:40 to go in the half.
”We weren’t ready,” Arizona’s Jesse Perry said. ”We came out laid back and lazy.”
San Diego State didn’t get another field goal before halftime as Arizona finished the half on a 15-2 run to cut the lead to 31-29 at the break.
The Aztecs scored the first four points of the second half and were up 44-36 after Rahon scored and was fouled. He missed the free throw, and Jesse Perry’s dunk, followed by Kevin Parrom’s three-pointer cut San Diego State’s lead to 44-41 with 13:55 to play.
Arizona got no closer after that. Rahon made a 10-footer from the baseline, then Jamaal Franklin sank consecutive threes and Tim Shelton made a layup at the shot clock buzzer in a 10-0 run that put the Aztecs up 54-41 with 11:20 to play.
Johnson’s three-pointer with 3:41 remaining cut it to 57-51, but Tapley’s 17-footer boosted it to 59-51 with 1:03 left to virtually seal the win.
The Wildcats shot 31 percent in the first half, 2 of 13 on 3-pointers. The Aztecs, meanwhile, made 10 of their first 15 shots, including 4 of 5 3s. But they were just 2 of 15 the rest of the half.
Hill’s two free throws capped a 10-0 spurt that cut it to 29-24 with 4:44 to go. Rahon’s two free throws, the only points for San Diego State in that seven-minute span, boosted the lead to 31-24 before Arizona scored the final five points of the half. Turner’s two free throws cut the lead to 31-29 with 4.9 seconds remaining.