HONOLULU – Before the Arizona Wildcats beat San Diego State 68-67 to win the Diamond Head Classic on Tuesday, forward Kevin Parrom was already growing fond of being undefeated.
“Everybody wants us to lose now,” Parrom said. “I like that feeling.”
The Wildcats can now get used to it. After Nick Johnson blocked Chase Tapley’s layup with three seconds left, UA is entering the new year undefeated.
The win moved Arizona to 12-0, equaling its best start in 81 years. The Wildcats were 12-0 in 1987-88 and were 16-0 under Fred Enke in 1931-32.
SDSU dropped to 11-2.
Arizona beat East Tennessee State and Miami to reach the championship game, while San Diego State beat San Francisco and Indiana State.
Parrom led the Wildcats in scoring with 17 points while Tapley had 19 for SDSU.
UA's Solomon Hill was named the Diamond Head Classic MVP while guard Mark Lyons made the five-man all-tournament team. Tapley was also named to the all-tournament team, as was Mississippi's Murphy Holloway and Indiana State's Jake Odum.
San Diego State took a 66-65 lead into the final minute before a shooting foul was called on Hill.
Hill then missed the first free throw and hit the second to tie the game at 66 but fouled SDSU’s Jamaal Franklin on the Aztecs’ ensuing possession. Franklin also missed the first and hitthe second with 31seconds left, giving the Aztecs another one-point lead.
After a UA timeout with 27 seconds left, Mark Lyons took the inbounds and drove inside. He drew a foul and hit the first free throw before SDSU called a timeout. Lyons then made the second free throw, and SDSU’s final play went to Tapley, who drove inside from the left side and was blocked by a leaping Johnson.
Arizona cut SDSU’s lead to 45-44 by the time Brandon Ashley made a three-point play with 12 minutes left but the Wildcats suffered a problem during that stretch: Point guard Mark Lyons picked up his fourth foul with 13:23 left.
UA coach Sean Miller initially opted to play Nick Johnson at point guard instead of backup Jordin Mayes and the Wildcats took a 51-50 lead after Solomon Hill made two free throws with 10:16 left.
Lyons did not reenter the game until there was 8:02 left.
The game stayed within a basket from there until the end.
The Aztecs took their first lead early in the second half when two positive UA trends from the first half – low turnovers and a punchless Jamaal Franklin – turned sour.
Franklin, SDSU’s leading scorer, scored his first basket of the game with 19:22 left to tie the game at 29, and turnovers on two UA possessions led to baskets by Tapley – a three-pointer and a layup. The Aztecs took a 41-33 lead after Xavier Thames scored twice before the Wildcats tightened it back up.
In the first half, the Wildcats survived a poor shooting effort to take a 29-27 halftime lead in part because San Diego State had 11 turnovers.
Arizona hit just 29.4 percent of its field goals, taking many difficult shots, and made only 6 of 11 free throws. Hill led UA in first-half scoring with 10 points but was 4 for 10 from the field. Lyons, Kevin and Johnson each had five points.
The Wildcats, who had averaged 17 turnovers in their previous three games, had only three turnovers in the first half. Miller said earlier in the Diamond Head Classic that turnovers were becoming a “weakness” for the Wildcats.
Arizona also kept Franklin scoreless in the first half while Tapley led the Aztecs with 10 points.
SDSU cut Arizona’s early seven-point lead to 16-13 when Dwayne Polee made a fast-break layup off a turnover from Parrom and Tapley later cut it to 17-16 with a three-pointer.
But the Aztecs were never able to cut it any closer before halftime.
UA took an early 12-5 lead thanks to some aggressive play from Parrom, who drove through traffic for a layup and, after Hill made a layup off a SDSU turnover, came back for a three-pointer.
But the Wildcats couldn’t fully take advantage of SDSU’s slow start because they were shooting nearly as poorly. The Aztecs missed their first seven field goals but the Wildcats were just 1 of 6 at the outset, taking just a 3-1 lead at the first media timeout four minutes into the game.
The Wildcats will have nine days between tonight’s game and their Pac-12 opener on Jan. 3 against Colorado at McKale Center. They were picked by a single point to win the Pac-12 in the conference’s official media poll before the season.