HONOLULU - As a former Arizona guard, a travel-ball coach and an ESPN analyst, Miles Simon has a unique perspective on how the Wildcats' somewhat unconventional backcourt is shaping up this season.
So far, he's impressed. To Simon, there's a lot to be said about having a scoring-minded point guard in Mark Lyons and an all-around talent at shooting guard in Nick Johnson.
"I think they play well off each other," said Simon, who was ESPN's analyst for UA's first two Diamond Head Classic games. "Obviously, Mark can score … the bonus is having a guy like Nick who can score but has the ability to facilitate and get other guys the ball - that kind of balances what Mark does as a point guard."
Simon said Johnson has made a big leap from his freshman to his sophomore season.
"You see more confidence in how he plays," Simon said. "He's shooting the ball well. He always had a high basketball IQ, but he's leading the team, making the right plays and he came up huge against Florida with his three three-point shots."
Simon, who covered the UA-Florida game for ESPN and will handle UA's Jan. 3 Pac-12 opener with Colorado, has also been impressed with senior forward Solomon Hill.
"Solomon hasn't been great with scoring, but as the season goes along, he's going to be arguably the most important piece to this team because he does so many things," Simon said. "He's a versatile defender who can guard multiple positions. His three-point shooting has improved dramatically throughout his career and he's cut down on turnovers as his career has gone on."
Change of pace
In 10 straight wins leading up to its game with Indiana State on Sunday, San Diego State averaged 76.0 points. Then the Aztecs found themselves in a one-shot game late against the Sycamores, winning 62-55.
"It wasn't the prettiest of games, but it was hard fought by both teams," SDSU coach Steve Fisher said.
SDSU, which shot 39 percent from the field in the first half and just 41.7 percent for the game, was led by Jamaal Franklin, who had 19 points and 15 rebounds.
The Aztecs (11-1), who have won 11 straight since their season-opening loss to Syracuse on Nov. 11, moved into the Diamond Head Classic final on Tuesday. Indiana State (6-4) will play for third place after beating Ole Miss and losing to SDSU.
"It was an honor to play them," Indiana State coach Greg Lansing said. "We really tried, we really competed, but we didn't do what we needed to do to beat one of the better teams in the country."
After suffering an overtime loss to Indiana State in the first round Saturday, Ole Miss fell into a consolation-bracket game with San Francisco on Sunday and almost dropped into the 7-8 game.
The Rebels trailed USF 38-33 at halftime, watching Dons guard Cody Doolin dish seven assists before halftime, before waking up in the second half to win 85-78.
"I thought we kind of had some of the consolation-bracket blues early," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. "It's disappointing anytime you come out and have aspirations of winning a tournament and you get knocked out in the first round. We were a little bit shell-shocked."
Kennedy said logistics added to the mental challenge of Sunday's game. The Rebels tipped off at 10 a.m. local time after staying up until about 11 p.m. on Saturday studying film of the Dons.
"For us I'm just proud that we got energy out of a number of our guys," Kennedy said. "We were much more efficient the second half."
Murphy Holloway led the Rebels with 23 points and 13 rebounds. Ole Miss (9-2) will face Hawaii in the fifth-place game on Tuesday. San Francisco dropped to 5-6 and will play East Tennessee State for seventh place.
Vander Joaquim had 23 points and nine rebounds to lead Hawaii to an 84-61 win over East Tennessee State in a consolation-bracket game.
Christian Standhardinger added 18 points and 12 rebounds for the Rainbow Warriors, while Jarvis Jones and Rashawn Rembert had 14 points for ETSU.