NEW YORK - By wearing down St. John's on its venerable home court to pull out an 81-72 victory Thursday, the Arizona Wildcats hardly resembled the team that lost to Division II Seattle Pacific at McKale Center exactly three weeks earlier.
Instead, the way UA coach Sean Miller saw it, the Wildcats were more like the team that won last season's Pac-10 championship and cruised into the Elite Eight. Sure, Derrick Williams wasn't around, but the Wildcats had seven different players pierce the St. John's zone defense for three-pointers in the first half and they put together a 14-4 run down the stretch in a game that was tied with just over four minutes to go.
If there was a time to fold, that was it.
"We were fortunate to win a game like this in November, being so far from home and in the great home court that Madison Square Garden represents," Miller said. "Sometimes when you go on the road, your first road game in a place like this, it's almost like you can self-destruct. Especially if you're down late in the game, which we were."
"Today, it was more of a function of a couple of our guys were in the winner's circle a year ago, and finishing the game showed a lot of toughness."
Miller said a statistic that illustrated his point was that guard Kyle Fogg and forward Kevin Parrom combined for 11 assists and just one turnover - Parrom had five assists to one turnover and Fogg dished six assists with no turnovers.
While Jesse Perry had 11 points and 10 rebounds, and Solomon Hill had 15 points and seven rebounds, it was the relative lack of turnovers that may have made the biggest difference against a St. John's team that thrives on scoring off them.
The Red Storm had 17 turnovers to UA's 10, and the Wildcats scored five more points off turnovers than St. John's did.
The win meant Arizona (4-0) will now face Mississippi State (3-1) in the 2K Sports Classic final today at 5 p.m. Tucson time.
But the Wildcats were hardly a sure thing to reach the championship game until the final few minutes Thursday. St. John's led 68-67 with 4:22 before Hill made two three-pointers and Fogg hit a three shortly thereafter while UA went on its game-ending run.
There was a minor scuffle toward the end of the game that involved several players on both sides but officials did not call a foul after reviewing what happened.
When UA players were asked about it at the postgame interview room, Miller answered.
"Hard-fought game," Miller said. "Just two teams fighting really hard to win."
UA received a boost during the late run when St. John's Nurideen Lindsey fouled out with 4:02 left. Lindsey already had a team-high 18 points at that point.
"That was huge," Fogg said. "He's arguably their best player. He's kind of the engine to their team. There was a big drop in aggressiveness when he fouled out. I think our team fed off that."
Early in the second half, St. John's went on a 13-2 run to take a 62-56 lead by the time Lindsey scored with 9:59 to go.
In the first half, seven Wildcats hit three-pointers while Arizona took a 44-41 halftime lead. Hill led UA with nine points, while Perry had six rebounds.
After some initial turnover trouble, the Wildcats rebounded thanks to their shooting and depth. Parrom, playing his second game since returning from gunshot wounds in September, hit 2 of 4 three-pointers in front of hometown friends and family.
"It felt great after everything I have been through," Parrom said. "It's a great feeling. … I was sad before the game. I had emotion, but I had to put that aside."
Arizona was 9 for 17 from three-point range in the first half, taking advantage of open looks afforded by St. John's zone defense.
It was also a defense that was not well-executed, St. John's coach Steve Lavin said.
"Most of those open threes … came off poor defense," Lavin said. Arizona "did a nice job of being patient and probing, and they shot the ball very well."
Nick Johnson hit his first three late in the half, cutting the St. John's lead to 34-32 with four minutes to go. Before that, it was Fogg making his first three-pointer, cutting the deficit to 32-29 with 5:43 left. Fogg missed his first two three-point attempts.
St. John's had gone ahead 31-26 on a short jumper by Malik Stith after the Red Storm pulled down the rebound on God'sgift Achiuwa's missed free throw.
The game was tied at several times midway through the half.
Parrom and Hill both made two early three-pointers. Hill was only 1 for 5 from three over the UA's first three games.
Arizona led 19-17 with 11:27 left, after a turnover by Sidiki Johnson on last play before time out.
Turner, who came off the bench behind Jordin Mayes, hit a three-pointer shortly after entering game at the first media timeout. Turner was playing his first game since sitting out Sunday's UA-Ball State game.
Parrom hit UA's first field goal, a three-pointer with 16:30 left. He entered two minutes into the game, while UA moved out center Kyryl Natyazhko, and UA went with a small lineup for most of the first half.
• What: Arizona vs. Mississippi St. at the 2K Sports Classic
• Where: Madison Square Garden
• When: 5 p.m.
• TV: ESPN2
• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM