BOISE, Idaho - Arizona learned from what happened in its last NCAA tournament appearance. The Wildcats got a big lead on Utah State and this time built on it, winning 66-53 Thursday in the Chicago Regional. Last spring, the Wildcats blew a 14-point lead and lost in the first round to Seton Hall.
Third-seeded Arizona (28-6) overcame a sluggish start and a three-point halftime deficit, but opened the second half with a 16-2 run and dominated the rest of the way.
Channing Frye scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half and pulled down 10 rebounds. Salim Stoudamire also scored 17 and Hassan Adams and Chris Rodgers scored 10 apiece for the Wildcats.
Jaycee Carroll led No. 14 seed Utah State (24-8) with 18 points, going 5-for-10 from 3-point range but didn't have much help. Nate Harris was the only other Aggie to score in double figures with 12 points. Spencer Nelson, who averaged 16.4 points, scored just six after battling the flu.
Arizona, on a run of 21 straight NCAA tournament appearances, hasn't been knocked out in the opening round in consecutive years since 1992 and '93. But it looked like a real possibility when Utah State led 29-26 at halftime after keeping Arizona from getting any tempo going in the first 20 minutes.
But in the second half, the Wildcats again looked like the team that won the Pac-10 regular-season title and averaged nearly 80 points a game. And Arizona did it against the clear crowd favorite.
The Boise State arena is about 300 miles northwest of the Utah State campus, and at least half the arena was filled with Aggie fans, who were loud and boisterous early and stunned into silence late.
The Wildcats tightened their defense to start the second half and frazzled the Aggies, who had just one field goal in the first 7:34 of the second half.
Frye began the 16-2 run with a three-point play. He tied it at 29 with a jump-hook and Stoudamire hit a 3-pointer from the left wing to put Arizona ahead. By the time Adams completed the run with two straight layups, Arizona led 42-31.
Carroll ended Utah State's scoring drought with back-to-back 3-pointers and Nelson added two free throws to make it 42-39, but the Wildcats took off again with eight straight points, a run Rodgers started with a 3.
Arizona was in control the rest of the way and added some emphasis with an alley-oop from Mustafa Shakur to Adams to make it 56-43 - one of Shakur's seven assists.
Utah State led 29-26 at halftime, keeping the Wildcats from getting any rhythm except for one stretch when Arizona went up 20-17 on a 3-pointer by Rodgers and a jumper by Shakur. The Aggies stayed with their methodical halfcourt game, passing the ball around the perimeter until somebody got free for a shot.
It worked time after time, and Utah State used a 9-2 run to go up 28-24 late in the half.