Winston Shepard and San Diego State are sick of losing to Arizona, particularly after the Wildcats eliminated the Aztecs from postseason play eight months ago.
The 15th-ranked Aztecs have another chance to knock off the third-ranked Wildcats in Wednesday night’s Maui Invitational championship game as the schools meet for a fifth time in four seasons.
San Diego State (5-0) is 31-5 against non-conference opponents since 2012-13 with three of those losses coming to Arizona (5-0). The Wildcats won 70-64 in an NCAA tournament regional semifinal on March 27, shooting 47.9 percent compared to 38.9 percent for the Aztecs, who led by as many as eight points in the second half.
Arizona also won 69-60 at San Diego State last Nov. 14, and 68-67 in the Diamond Head Classic final – also in Hawaii – on Dec. 25, 2012.
The Aztecs will likely be relieved to not see Nick Johnson, who is now in the NBA after playing a huge role in each Wildcat win. He blocked San Diego State’s potential game-winning shot with three seconds left in 2012, scored 23 in last November’s meeting and recorded all 15 of his points in the final 2:45 of their NCAA tournament matchup.
San Diego State is no longer with guard Xavier Thames, who totaled 44 points in last season’s meetings.
"This will be my fourth time playing them, I’m 0-3 so far and I just want to be able to get a win," said Shepard, a junior forward who has averaged 8.7 points against Arizona. "We’re just two great teams in a lot of the same tournaments, I guess."
The Wildcats own a 23-7 series advantage with San Diego State last winning 61-57 in Tucson on Nov. 23, 2011.
Arizona continued to rely on its dominant front line to reach the final with Kaleb Tarczewski scoring 18 in Tuesday’s 72-68 win over Kansas State after entering as the team’s fifth-leading scorer with 6.5 points per game. Frontcourt mates Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brandon Ashley and Stanley Johnson are averaging a combined 40.4 points.
The Wildcats were tested after winning their first four games by an average of 19.3 points.
"We’re very, very proud of tonight’s win," coach Sean Miller said. "We feel like we beat a great team, and that’s why you come to Maui: to challenge yourself on a neutral court like we just did."
Arizona’s 32-game regular-season non-conference winning streak leads the nation. The Wildcats, who won the 2000 Maui title, are looking to win their third straight exempt tournament after the 2012 Diamond Head Classic and 2013 NIT Season Tip-Off.
San Diego State shot 58.7 percent in Tuesday’s 74-57 win over Pittsburgh – its best mark on a neutral floor since shooting 60.4 percent against Green Bay on Nov. 20, 2010. Steve Fisher surpassed George Ziegenfuss for the most wins by an Aztec coach with victory No. 317.
Freshman Trey Kell was 7 of 9 from the field for 15 points. He had 14 points on 3-of-7 shooting in Monday’s win over BYU after totaling nine points on 2-for-16 shooting in his first three games.
Former highly touted Arizona recruit Angelo Chol had 10 points for the Aztecs. Chol transferred after averaging 2.4 points in 10.6 minutes per game for the Wildcats in 2011-12 and 2012-13. He’s averaging 7.2 points on 75.0 percent shooting in 16.4 minutes per game.
Arizona is shooting 50.0 percent while San Diego State has held each opponent to 41.4 percent shooting or worse.