Las Vegas, NV – The Arizona Wildcats turned in an impressive performance in the championship game of the Roman Main Event easily defeating No. 4-ranked Michigan 80-62 before 8,624 fans at T-Mobile Arena. Christian Koloko, the 7-1 junior center originally from Cameroon, was named the MVP of the event after leading the Wildcats with 22 points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots.
Koloko dominated Michigan’s more heralded center, Hunter Dickinson. He made things tough for Dickinson inside, blocking several shots and altering others. Dickerson was held to 11 points on 4-of-10 shooting. Koloko, who might be one of the more improved players in the nation, also showed the ability to guard in space and was effective as the roller off pick & rolls, registering several dunks.
Koloko wasn’t the only international player who helped in the win. Six of their eight rotation players are from outside the USA. Azuolas Tubelis, a 6-10, 240-pound versatile forward from Lithuania added 13 points and eight rebounds, with several rebounds in the impressive category. Bennedict Mathurin, a 6-6 wing with ball skills, did most of his damage in the first half and finished with 16 points on 7-of-13 shooting, making two three-pointers, He added five rebounds.
Kerr Kriisa served as the primary point guard for the Wildcats. The fiery 6-2 guard from Latvia entered the transfer portal after his first season in Tucson, but was convinced by Coach Lloyd to return and be given a chance to earn the start at the point. Last season Kriisa played mostly off the ball, primarily due to his late arrival after eligibility issues and James Akinjo’s play. With Akinjo transferring to Baylor, the spot was open and Kriisa earned it. He’s clearly more at home playing with the ball. Tonight, his shot was a bit off (seven points on 3-of-12 shooting, 1-of-8 3s) but he was effective running the offense with seven assists and four steals.
Arizona’s international players were supported by Dalen Terry, a 6-7 wing with point guard skills. Terry played some point when Kriisa was off the floor and had five assists. He also added 13 points (6-of-7 FGs), with several transition dunks, and five rebounds.
Two other international players who are part of Arizona’s rotation didn’t have much effect on the game. Pelle Larsson (Sweden) a strong 6-5 transfer from Utah added two points in 13 minutes while Oumar Ballo, the 7-0, 260-pound transfer from Gonzaga added five rebounds in 11 minutes. Ballo is in better shape this season and both players should contribute during the year.
The game was never really in doubt, it was close early then Arizona gradually pulled away to a 37-29 lead at the half. Their lead quickly advanced to double-digits as the Wildcats dominated Michigan in all phases of the game. For the Wolverines, Eli Brooks was the only player moderately effective. Brooks scored 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting and was strong getting to the hoop.
Neither team had any luck shooting from deep with Arizona going 4-of-21 and Michigan 1-of-14. The Wildcats were effective getting the ball inside and shot 64 percent on two-point attempts. They had a 54-30 edge in points in the paint. Arizona has been moving the ball very well so far this year and tonight was not an exception with the Wildcats passing for 23 assists compared for only eight for the Wolverines. They also committed only ten turnovers compared to 14 for the Wolverines. Arizona had been averaging 22 assists coming into the game. They also had been holding their opponents to 29 percent shooting. Michigan shot slightly better than that in making 24-of-67 overall (35.8 percent) but that wasn’t good enough to make the game competitive.
The win was Arizona’s fifth straight to open the season. The Wildcats look good enough to contend for a Pac-12 title. Michigan (4-2) suffered their second loss after also being upset by Seton Hall. They will fall in the rankings but have the skill to get this back in order.
In an exciting third place game Wichita State (4-1) edged the hometown UNLV Rebels (3-2) 74-73 as guard Tyson Etienne scored 28 points including the two deciding free throws with three seconds left. Etienne shot 8-of-17 from the field including 6-of-12 from deep. Bryce Hamilton led UNLV with 18 points.