LAHAINA » Kaleb Tarczewski scored 18 points, Gabe York added 15 and No. 3 Arizona hung on to win its first close game of the season, beating Kansas State 72-68 Tuesday in the Maui Invitational semifinals.
Arizona (5-0) had rolled through its first four games despite some slow starts and shot 53 percent against Kansas State, yet couldn’t shake the scrappy Wildcats.
Trailing by nine in the second half, Kansas State (3-2) whittled the lead down to a single possession in the final minute.
Arizona went up 69-64 after three free throws by Stanley Johnson and York, but Marcus Foster cut the lead to two on a 3-pointer with 11 seconds left.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson finally helped Arizona secure a spot in Wednesday night’s championship game by hitting two free throws with 4 seconds left.
Johnson finished with 14 points and seven rebounds.
Foster scored 23 points and went 6 for 9 from 3-point range for Kansas State.
Arizona has been plagued by slow starts this season, and the Maui opener against Missouri was no different. The Wildcats, as they did in previous games, pulled away in the second half for a 19-point win — but they probably couldn’t afford another uninspired start against Kansas State.
In their tournament opener, the Wildcats jumped on Purdue early, creating easy scoring opportunities through turnovers while building a 15-point lead. Kansas State let up down the stretch to let the Boilermakers back in it, but pulled out a physical victory.
A fast start was no problem for either team in the semifinals.
Playing quickly in both directions, Arizona and Kansas State traded athletic plays — Johnson’s tomahawk dunk down the lane was a highlight — and baskets in an entertaining opening 10 minutes.
Neither team was able to get much separation, and the half ended with Stephen Hurt jamming in a putback at the buzzer to pull Kansas State to 31-30.
The second half continued the same way until T.J. McConnell and York hit consecutive 3-pointers to put Arizona up 52-43 midway through.
Kansas State clawed its way back, pulling to 66-64 on a 3-pointer by Foster with 2:30 left.
K-State kept fighting back each time, but couldn’t complete the comeback as Arizona hit six of eight free throws in the final 22 seconds.
Kansas State: Foster is a combined 16 for 28 the past two games after going 1 for 13 in a loss to Long Beach State.
Arizona: Johnson was called for two fouls 90 seconds into the second half and had to sit down with four. He returned 6 minutes later for a short stint and came back with 7:15 left.
Kansas State faces the loser between Pittsburgh and No. 15 San Diego State in Wednesday’s third-place game.
Arizona will play the Pitt-SDSU winner in Wednesday night’s title game.