Arizona basketball rolls over Michigan at Roman Main Event final

Bruce Pascoe
Arizona Daily Star

The combination of new Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd’s free-flowing system and a core of athletic returning talent meant all the Wildcats' early blowouts over NAU, UTRGV and North Dakota State weren’t much of a surprise.

But almost the same thing against No. 4 Michigan?

Christian Koloko blocking preseason All-American Hunter Dickinson, not some 6-6 low-major post player? Fifty percent shooting against a team rated third nationally in defensive efficiency entering the game? Repeatedly skirting down the left baseline off screens to score easy dunks and layups?

It all happened Sunday, when Arizona pulled off a 80-62 win over the Wolverines in the championship of the Main Event at T-Mobile Arena.

The Wildcats continued their efficient, selfless offensive ways, with five players in double figure scoring and assists on 20 of their 29 baskets. Christian Koloko led the way with 22 points, seven rebounds and four blocks while Benn Mathurin added 16 points on 7-for-13 shooting.

While point guard Kerr Kriisa shot only 3 for 11 from the field, he also set the tone by dishing seven assists to no turnovers along with four steals.

The win moved the Wildcats to 5-0 and likely well into the Associated Press Top 25 poll that will be released Monday, while Michigan dropped to 3-2 after a homecourt loss to Seton Hall, a Main Event win over UNLV and the loss to Arizona.

Ahead by eight at halftime, Arizona kept racing ahead in the second. The Wildcats made all six shots they took over the first four minutes of the half while Kriisa twice turned a steal into an assist of a Dalen Terry basket.

Terry first stole the ball from Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson, and Terry’s ensuing layup made it 43-33 while Kriisa late stole it from Moussa Diabate and fed it to Terry for a dunk that made it 53-40 with 15:46 left.

The Wildcats still hadn’t missed a shot at the second media timeout, with 11:25 left in the game, making all nine shots that included two 3-pointers. That helped them take a 17-point lead, 62-45, by the time Mathurin drilled in a 25-footer from the right wing just before the media timeout.

Mathurin already had 16 points on 7-for-12 shooting at that point, while three other teammates were also in double figures: Dalen Terry, Koloko and Azuolas Tubelis.

The Wildcats missed four shots in a row during the middle of the second half but still managed to hold a 17-point lead again 64-47, when Koloko hit two free throws.

In the first half, Arizona powered inside to hit 15 of 25 two-pointers, including several flashy dunks from the left baseline, while taking a 37-29 halftime lead.

The Wildcats, with a balanced attack that included eight points, two rebounds and a block from center Christian Koloko, also kept Michigan from hitting a single of its seven 3-pointers and helped force 10 Wolverine turnovers. 

Arizona barely outshot Michigan overall from the field, 44.7% to 44.3% and was outrebounded 21-15 but the Wildcats had three more second chance points and scored eight points off Michigan's 12 turnovers. 

Trailing 20-19 with eight minutes left, Arizona rattled off eight straight points, capped by a dramatic alley-oop dunk by Koloko off a short loft from Bennedict Mathurin, who had penetrated well into the lane. Koloko had earlier scored on a hook shot while Azuolas Tubelis added a rebound basket.

Then, after Michigan’s Eli Brooks hit a jumper, Arizona’s Dalen Terry came back with a 3-point to put UA ahead 30-23 with four minutes left.

After Michigan jumped out to an early 6-2 lead, Koloko’s 17th block of the season led to the Wildcats’ first lead: He blocked a layup attempt from preseason all-American center Hunter Dickinson, with Terry picking up the rebound and lofting it to Bennedict Mathurin over the hoop, with Mathurin throwing in a dunk that gave the Wildcats their first lead of the game.

Both teams defended each other well from the 3-point line over the middle of the half while exchanging leads. The Wildcats also picked up two offensive fouls on the Wolverines, one when Kerr Kriisa positioned himself to get bowled over in the lane by Michigan’s Frankie Collins.