LAS VEGAS – Christian Koloko’s mother flew from Cameroon to see her son play for Arizona for the first time. He didn’t disappoint, dominating at both ends.
His team looked pretty good, too, dominating No. 4 Michigan 80-62 Sunday night in the Roman Main Event.
Koloko finished with 22 points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots, pointing to his mother after being presented the title belt as tournament MVP.
“She doesn’t know much about basketball,” Koloko said. “I remember after the last game, she said we missed a lot goals. I was like no, we call those free throws, which was kind of funny. I’m going to go talk to her after this.”
The Wildcats (5-0) had to grind out a win over Wichita State on Friday in their first true test of the season. They put together an impressive all-around performance Sunday in another measuring-stick game, leaving a top-five team in the desert dust.
Arizona was active defensively all night and used its free-flowing movement on offense to set up easy shots. The Wildcats made just 4 of 21 from the 3-point line, but hit 64% of its 2-point shots, including several alley-oops or point-blank baskets off penetration.
Bennedict Mathurin added 16 points for Arizona, which had a 54-30 advantage in the paint.
“They played with great intelligence and swag,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said. “Our Arizona swag is confidence, but it’s backed up with intelligence and effort.”
Michigan bounced back Friday from a two-point home loss to Seton Hall with a 13-point win over UNLV. But the Wolverines (4-2) couldn’t back it up on Sunday, struggling against Arizona’s length inside and quick hands in passing lanes – both of which led to transition opportunities for the Wildcats.
Michigan also couldn’t get anything to fall from the perimeter, shooting 1 of 14 from 3.
“They have a really good inside presence,” said Eli Brooks, who led the Wolverines with 14 points. “They have a lob threat and that second big is really active. They’re a really good team.”
Arizona rolled through its first four games under Lloyd, looking a bit like the Gonzaga program he help build.
The Wildcats have been superb at sharing the ball with nearly 22 assists per game. They’ve also been excellent on defense, holding teams to 29% shooting while averaging 8.2 blocked shots per game.
Koloko triggered one break with a block that led to an alley-oop from Dalen Terry to Mathurin, then Mathurin found Koloko for an alley-oop after beating his man off the dribble. Arizona had 11 assists on 17 made shots for a 37-29 halftime lead.
The Wolverines didn’t help themselves with some careless turnovers – 10 in the first half – and ill-advised shots, missing all seven of their first-half 3-point attempts.
Arizona poured it on to start the second half, making its first nine shots to push the lead to 62-45. Michigan cut down on the turnovers in the second half (five), but continued to struggle shooting from the perimeter, going 1 for 7.
“They could get anything they wanted anytime they wanted,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “That’s the only game thus far that we’ve allowed a team to do that.”
Michigan: The Wolverines may have Final Four aspirations in their third season under Howard, but there’s plenty of work to do if they’re going to get there.
Arizona: The Wildcats may be better than the predictions under Lloyd. They’re long, quick on defensive and have several options offensively. Arizona will likely crack the next AP Top 25.
Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson finished with 11 points and four rebounds, but was mostly a non-factor offensively most of the night.
Arizona neutralized the 7-foot-1 sophomore with Koloko, who’s the same height, and quick double teams anytime he got the ball deep in the paint. Dickinson shot 4 of 10 from the floor.
“The coaches gave us the game plan and we executed the game plan very well,” Koloko said.
Arizona: Host Sacramento State on Saturday.
Michigan: Hosts Tarleton State on Wednesday.