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The two favored teams took care of business in the semifinals, leading to a big-time match-up between Arizona and San Diego State for the Diamond Head Classic Championship. The Aztecs struggled earlier in the day with Indiana State before pulling away late. The Wildcats followed with their most complete game of the season for a dominating win over Miami, which was forced to play for the second time without injured star Reggie Johnson.
San Diego State is on an 11-game win streak since opening the season with a loss to Syracuse. The Aztecs have been dominant in most of those contests, although the only notable opponent was UCLA. Surprisingly, San Diego State’s two toughest challenges came from USC and Indiana State—two teams that slow the tempo to a crawl.
Guard Jamaal Franklin leads San Diego State with nearly 18 points and 10 rebounds per game—impressive numbers considering he’s only 6’5”. Franklin has scored in double-figures every game this season and also leads the Aztecs in assists. He is prone to turnovers, however, averaging more than four per contest. Add in Chase Tapley and Xavier Thames (a Washington State transfer), and San Diego State has arguably the best guard trio in the country (although Mark Lyons, Nick Johnson, and Kevin Parrom may have something to say about that).
What the Aztecs lack is height. In addition to starting three guards, their two post starters stand only 6’7” and 6’8”. It will be interesting to see if Arizona can fully capitalize on the size disparity, or if Miller counters with a small Wildcat lineup.
Similar to the Florida game, the San Diego State game will have bigger-than-normal ramifications for the Wildcats and the Pac-12. Arizona doesn’t have any other currently ranked opponents on its schedule, so this game will be weighed heavily in March. The pressure isn’t quite as high for the Wildcats this time since they already have the Florida victory in-hand. However, the Gators recently dropped a game to unranked Kansas State, so a marquee win away from McKale would do Arizona good.
In addition to the postseason implications, the Wildcats have their pride on the line. Arizona is viewed as the best team in the west, and this is the perfect opportunity to prove it. Aztec fans love to crow about any perceived upper hand their team can get on Arizona, and the Aztec players are undoubtedly aware of how important a win would be to their program. Expect San Diego State to come out with more fire than they have all season.
Outlook: Don’t underestimate San Diego State due to its lack of size. The Aztecs are a legit top-20 team with tough, versatile guards and talent to spare. Arizona may not face stiffer competition the rest of the season (although trips to West Wood, Boulder, and Eugene won’t be cakewalks).
The Wildcats will need to play elite defense, as they have since the opener. Arizona will also need to avoid the offensive lulls that plagued it against Southern Miss and Clemson. If they do that, their size and depth should prove too much for the Aztecs. Only a handful of teams can match the Wildcats when they play to their potential. San Diego State isn’t one of them. Arizona should pull out a relatively close win.