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Wednesday In San Antonio: Practice and Media

Mar 23, 2022

SAN ANTONIO - On Wednesday, the top-seeded Arizona Wildcats got their first look at the AT&T Center, the home of the San Antonio Spurs, and the site of Thursday night's regional semifinal game against No. 5 seed Houston (7pm MST; TBS). The Cats and Cougars were joined by Villanova and Michigan in going through the paces on the court and at the podium as is standard practice for NCAA Tournament games.

Check out the videos below to see what Coach Lloyd and members of the team had to say about Thursday's matchup with Houston and other topics.


Coach Tommy Lloyd

Bennedict Mathurin

Dalen Terry

Azuolas Tubelis

Kerr Kriisa

Christian Koloko

Sweet 16 Media Conference

THE MODERATOR: We're joined here by Arizona head coach Tommy Lloyd. Arizona faces Houston tomorrow following the Michigan-Villanova game on TBS. We will start with questions.

Q. Coach, when you look at Houston, what jumps out to you?

TOMMY LLOYD: Obviously they're very well coached. I know that's a cliche coaches say before they play somebody, but that's absolutely true. They're well drilled. Coach Sampson is somebody I have a ton of respect for. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest. That's kind of where his coaching career got off to a great start there.

I'm so impressed just with how players do what they're told to do. Just the effort they play with. They max out every effort area. They're well drilled on offense. They know the shots they want to take. They know who's taking them, where they're coming from, and they obviously do an amazing job offensive bounding. And then defensively, the effort and energy they play with and attention to detail, it's almost unmatched.

Q. A few minutes ago, the athletic director put out a statement regarding post-game video and some questions whether Bennedict may have touched a TCU dancer. Bennedict doesn't recall any contact but has attempted to be in touch with the woman to apologize. Do you know if he's indeed spoken with her? Is there any action the school is yet to take?

TOMMY LLOYD: I found out about the incident when we got back to Tucson. We were as surprised as anybody. I'm just going to refer to that statement from Dave about the situation.

Q. I was just wondering, what were your initial impressions when you first reached campus of Ben? What kind of player did you think he was and could become?

TOMMY LLOYD: Obviously you could see he was really talented. I had seen Ben when he was at the NBA Academy in Mexico City. And was just really impressed how far he'd come development-wise. When I first saw him, he was kind of an undersized, skinny, athletic, underskilled four man. And then somewhere between there and last year, he learned how to shoot.

When I first met with Ben, I told him, I said, Ben, I think you need to take a breath, slow yourself down here a little bit, and let's make a two-year plan. He's like, I know, I am on a two-year plan. This is the second year. I said, no, no, no, two years from now. Because I didn't want him to carry the burden this year of feeling like he had to be perfect and play well every game to get to the NBA.

I just said, hey, listen, we can make a two-year plan on development and see how you progress, take a little bit of pressure off you. If you outperform it, great. Obviously, I think he's well on his way to outperforming my two-year plan.

Q. You had mentioned after that TCU game how important -- you need Azuolas to have a good game and play well. He didn't in that one and was kind of absent in the second half. What are you expecting from him, and how can he be more involved?

TOMMY LLOYD: I'm expecting him to play great. And I met with him individually. Obviously, I think he would have liked to play more and he would have liked to play better is the most important thing. I just told him, I think you're -- a lot of times young, talented players like Zu hit a crossroads in their career. You start playing in these really high-level, high-pressure games, you've got to be able to perform.

So I talked to him about that. How are you going to be able to play against amazing, aggressive athletes in a knockout-type situation? So I think this struggle is good for him, and I think he's going to be a better player for it. Hopefully, it will start to show tomorrow.

Q. When you watch tape of Taze Moore, what do you think of him and his athleticism?

TOMMY LLOYD: Coach Rob on our staff has the scout, and every time he talks about him, he calls him a freak athlete, and you can just see it. Not only is he a freak athlete -- I haven't watched him enough to see his highlight reel. I just see a good basketball player.

He's playing on ball screens. He's hitting pull-ups. He's getting to the basket. Just looks like a really good live-bodied player who's got a great coach, and he's listening to his coach. And he's able to translate that athleticism and sprinkle some effort in there, and it's a heck of a combination.

Q. You mentioned last week that despite being a top seed, you didn't quite have the fans going that first game. The second game they came out. Now you're three hours away from Houston. What do you expect tomorrow, and how do you feel about that?

TOMMY LLOYD: It's great. Sometimes maybe rather than being in a neutral environment, you'd rather be in a little bit more of a hostile environment. Obviously, Houston, just with the proximity, is going to have a great crowd, but I think Wildcat nation will show up. I think our fan base is excited. They love being in this situation. I think they're going to bring it tomorrow.

Q. I'd like to ask you about Kerr. How's his ankle? Will he be ready to go a full game? If you could just talk a little bit about what it's like to coach him. I think you've spoken about a fine line in trying to deal with him this season.

TOMMY LLOYD: Kerr's a lot of bark and sometimes a little bite. Obviously, you guys see the personality and the antics, and he's an emotional player, and he's having fun is what he's doing.

He's easy to coach. He listens. He gives you eye contact. He's got a high IQ. I haven't had any issues with him coaching-wise all year, and I'll roll with him every day of the week.

His ankle continues to make progress. We still take it on a day-by-day basis, and hopefully he'll be able to get up and down in practice a little bit today, and hopefully he'll be able to get out in the game and contribute tomorrow.

Q. When you were living in Eastern Washington and Coach Sampson was at Washington State, did you go to any camps? What was kind of your connection to him in the program?

TOMMY LLOYD: No, I think we kind of missed each other. I'm not sure exactly what year Coach moved down to Oklahoma from Washington State, but I know a lot of people that did go to the Cougar Cage Camp. I just wasn't one of them.

Q. Tommy, for those of us who don't watch you guys on a daily basis, put, if you could, Ben's dunk against TCU into some context. How often do you see that in practice? Is that something he actually works on after practice? What did it do for you guys? What does it do when he does something like that?

TOMMY LLOYD: Well, I think that dunk -- I mean, you always hope it gives you a little bit of momentum and start to run, and I think that one did. Because I think the game was pretty much tied, and I think we went on an 8-0 or 9-0 run after that.

Yeah, obviously, Ben's live body, but what's funny is he's one of those guys -- I've seen a lot of guys like this, these right-handed players, but when they go left and they're able to kind of plant that right foot and swing that left foot through and go up and cock the ball back and lean, they can just really explode off the floor with great force.

The only other player I've coached like that is a guy back in the day, some of you guys might know, a guy named Jeremy Pargo. When he got going left, he could really put that right foot in the ground and take off. Ben has that explosion as well.

Q. Obviously, Houston's team had a fair bit of roster turnover since last year's squad that made a run, but when you get into the second and third weekend of a tournament, is there increased value in having guys that have had experience on this kind of stage?

TOMMY LLOYD: I'm sure it's a positive thing. But I feel like our coaching staff has a lot of that experience. How I've just talked to our guys about it, what we had to do to win the Pac-12 tournament, we had three hard games in three consecutive days, and we had to dig deep. We dealt with an injury.

So I just told guys it's really no different than what you just experienced it. That's tournament basketball. So it's kind of the same thing. When the ball goes up, there's still 40 minutes. There's going to be three refs out there. Let's treat it the same.

So that's really been our approach. We haven't talked about this being a big moment or anything like that. I think we've got big game players. And I think they're excited to be here, and I think tomorrow they're going to go out and they're going to let it rip.

Q. Regarding Bennedict, Coach Sampson early on in this presser called him a day one starter in the NBA. I'm just wondering if you have the same evaluation maybe.

TOMMY LLOYD: Well, I'll let his coach make that decision next year. Coach Sampson will know better than I would. He's had experience being on NBA benches, which I never have.

The main thing for me is I want Ben to leave Arizona with the habits and the work ethic required to be a good NBA player because it's not going to be easy. This year hasn't been easy for Ben. It hasn't been smooth sailing, and nothing ever is.

So if he leaves with those habits and the character that he already has, I think he's got an opportunity to have a great NBA career.

Q. Following up on Kerr, has he practiced fully this week? Considering the way you guys played better with him after that initial part of the first couple halves in the last game, is there a chance you might go back to starting him?

TOMMY LLOYD: He hasn't went full full, no, not in practice yet. He's doing some stuff obviously. The focus is still on therapy and strengthening that ankle. I honestly haven't even thought about what I'm going to do with the starting lineup tomorrow. I'll talk to the staff about it and talk to the team, and we'll make a decision. But I wouldn't read too much into it one way or another.

Q. I was just wondering, did TCU's offensive rebounding, their physicality, did that prepare you for what you're going to see against Houston?

TOMMY LLOYD: You hope so. Houston kind of takes it to another level, but I don't know, I think somebody told me they're like third in the country in offensive rebound percentage, which is amazing and all this. Then I didn't even realize this, and I looked right down below, and Arizona's 15th. So out of 350 teams, they're 3rd, we're 15th. I think we're right there.

Hey, listen, they're going to get some offensive rebounds. It's just what they do, and it's just how the game goes. We just got to do a great job battling and hopefully limit that number.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Coach. Best of luck tomorrow.

All right, everybody. We are joined by Arizona's Bennedict Mathurin, Dalen Terry, Azuolas Tubelis, Kerr Kriisa, and Christian Koloko.

Q. Christian, we've seen a lot of your defense ability, but it seems like since the Pac-12 tournament, you've raised your game offensively. What are you feeling out on the court, and what are some of the keys to scoring more than you have been lately?

CHRISTIAN KOLOKO: I'm not feeling anything different. I'm just playing the same way. I'm just being more aggressive. My teammates are finding me a way better now. It just depends how the other team guards us basically. Sometimes they're focusing on guys like Ben and they leave somebody else open. You just play in the game, and what's open is open.

Q. Ben, when the season ended last year, what was your personal goals in terms of improvement in the player you wanted to become this season?

BENNEDICT MATHURIN: When I made a decision about coming back, my goal was to be a better player. Myself, just getting better with the ball in my hands and off the ball and just tightening up things a little bit just to be a better player.

Q. Ben, I know you're aware of the video clips that were out on social media. The athletic director today put out a statement that said you don't recall touching the TCU player. Can you just walk us through what you remember of that situation? Have you contacted her to apologize in any way? Can you just walk us through what that situation has been?

BENNEDICT MATHURIN: Yeah, I actually sent an e-mail trying to reach out to the cheerleader and sent through the TCU athletic department. I reached out to her, and that is it.

Q. Did you actually talk to her?

BENNEDICT MATHURIN: I answered your question.

Q. (Question in French.)

THE MODERATOR: And would you mind giving us a translation of the answer for us, please.

BENNEDICT MATHURIN: I said that I remain humble. A lot of people will be saying I've had a great season so far. I tell them the season's not over and we have a lot to do left. I'm going to stay humble and try and go to win it all.

Q. Ben, I'm wondering if you could kind of take us step by step through that dunk against TCU. Was it all instinct? At what point did you know you were going to be able to do what you did with the ball?

BENNEDICT MATHURIN: I would say the whole week all my teammates were saying I never got the dunk during the week. I just felt like it was the perfect setup. Christian got the ball in the low post, and my defender lost me, and I cut to the basket. It was a one-time opportunity, and I just took advantage of it. I went up there and jumped the highest that I could and made the dunk.

Q. Kerr, I was just wondering how you feel, if the last couple days helped you get to another level with your ankle. Also too for you and Dalen, you guys have been enjoying the fans. I wonder what kind of atmosphere you expect being as we're only three hours from Houston?

KERR KRIISA: So the question was for me? My ankle is doing better. I'm happy we got through the first two games. It gave me extra days to keep doing rehab, let my ankle become better. I feel like I have benefited a lot from the past two, three days.

Q. Kerr, just to follow up with you, I'd just like to get a sense for what do you feel is your role on this team? I know you're a very emotional player. You bring a lot of energy to everything, waving flags or pointing at the crowd. I'm kind of curious, how would you describe your own enthusiasm that you bring to the game?

KERR KRIISA: Well, my role in this team is obviously we have great players here. I wouldn't say scoring is my first role here, more than getting everybody involved and that everybody's happy. Obviously bringing the energy to the game, fans included.

So I just try to make my threes, keep passing the ball, make sure everybody's happy, make sure that Ben can keep dunking on people. So that's the job here right now, yeah.

Q. (Question in French.)

BENNEDICT MATHURIN: I basically said it was my first time playing in March Madness, and it was a pretty good experience for me and my teammates just to win the first two games. I'm looking forward to winning the next game and winning the National Championship.

Q. Dalen, I'm curious, you guys already have a lot of confidence as a top seed entering this tournament, but back against the walls last round, able to pull through, advance to the Sweet 16. How much more confidence does it give you guys as a team knowing that you can likely accomplish it all?

DALEN TERRY: I wouldn't say it gives us more confidence. We're a team now. We all know what we can do, and we're all pretty confident. I mean, our perspective of the game doesn't really change. We're just trying to win the next game.

Q. I'll rephrase my question from earlier. Kerr and Dalen, in particular, you guys have a lot of fun out there even facing opposing fans. I wonder if you kind of in a way look forward to this if Houston draws a lot of fans from nearby? What kind of atmosphere do you expect?


THE MODERATOR: We'll let Kerr answer that one.

DALEN TERRY: Go ahead.

KERR KRIISA: I mean, we're just trying to win the game. Like it just comes with it, I don't know. It's not that I'm looking forward to wave to Houston fans or stuff like this. We're just trying to win the game. If we do win the game, then we're going to let them know that we won the game. But if we lose, then we're going to shake their hand and say good game and try to be here back next year.

DALEN TERRY: I mean, kind of what Kerr said. When we win the game, it's not nothing personal with the other team's crowd. I mean, we a team. We're just goofy. We're all young and goofy. We just like to have fun. We just want to win the game for real.

Q. Christian, if you were to go back and talk to your 11-, 12-year-old self when you first started playing the game of basketball and tell him that in a little over a decade you'd be on that stage, what do you think that conversation would be like?

CHRISTIAN KOLOKO: I don't know. I actually never thought about it. It's crazy to be here right now, growing up in Cameroon. Not many people made it out of basketball. I think the only one who really made it is Pascal Siakam who's from Douala too. Other than that, most people play basketball for fun.

I just started playing basketball for fun, and to be here right now is just crazy. It's just hard work and just praying every day. I'm going to continue to work hard and keep praying.

Q. For Azuolas, what was it like not being in there very much in the second half this past game? And what have you done since then to try to make sure that you're able to stay involved? What do you need to do in this game?

AZUOLAS TUBELIS: I just need to play the same, and it was the coach's decision to not let me play in the second half. I think it worked well. We won the game. So I'm happy for that. I keep practicing hard, and I will play hard tomorrow.

Q. (Question in French.)

CHRISTIAN KOLOKO: He asked me what makes Ben different, and I just said his personality. He's a winner, and he's really confident. He's really confident. Every time he steps on the court, he just wants to win. He just wants to have his teammates involved. He does everything to win basically. He plays hard, and he just wants to win.

Q. How much pressure do you guys have being number one in this region? Do you feel like you have a bull's eye on your head or it's just a normal basketball game?

CHRISTIAN KOLOKO: There's no pressure. We started the season. Nobody was talking about us. Now we're playing good. Right now it's win or go home. There's no pressure. Everybody is confident they can win. We've just got to play our game and follow the instruction the coaches have for the game plan and believe in ourself, play together as a team.

I don't think there's any pressure. Even if there's pressure, I think Coach always says pressure is a privilege. If there's any pressure, it's a privilege for us to be pressured. We're just going to play our game and try to win every game.