Arizona's Season Comes to an End in the Sweet 16
SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Jamal Shead scored a career-high 21 points and Houston led throughout in a 72-60 victory over top-seeded Arizona on Thursday night, moving the Cougars within one win of a second straight Final Four.
With Taze Moore getting into early foul trouble after his 3-pointer for a 5-0 lead in the first two minutes, Shead and Kyler Edwards were both on the court nearly the entire game for the Cougars (32-5). Edwards, the Texas Tech transfer who played in the 2019 national championship game for the Red Raiders, had 19 points with five 3-pointers.
After quick consecutive layups by Dalen Terry got Arizona within 64-58 with just over two minutes left, Edwards settled things for Houston with a 3 from the right wing.
Houston plays second-seeded Villanova (28-7) in the South Region final on Saturday in San Antonio, which is about 200 miles from the UH campus.
Terry had 17 points for the Wildcats (33-4), while Pac-12 player of the year Bennedict Mathurin had 15 and Christian Koloko 10.
The American Athletic Conference champion Cougars became the second former Southwest Conference team to knock a No. 1 seed out of this NCAA Tournament in a matter of hours. Top overall seed Gonzaga lost 74-68 to Arkansas, which went to the SEC in 1991, five years before the SWC's final season.
These Cougars are much different than the ones coach Kelvin Sampson took the the Final Four last year — their first since going three times in a row during the Phi Slama Jama era from 1982-84.
Houston lost four starters from last season and then lost Marcus Sasser, the lone returner and leading scorer who broke his left foot before Christmas. Sophomore guard Tramon Mark also had a season-ending shoulder injury.
Arizona had one of the least-experienced teams in Division I this season; according to KenPom.com, the Wildcats average 0.63 years of experienced, ranked 355th out of 358 teams. But they won 33 games, and two of their losses were on the road during the regular season against top-20 teams.
Those 33 wins left Tommy Lloyd one win shy of the most in NCAA history for a first-year coach. He took over the Wildcats after 21 seasons as an assistant coach for Mark Few at Gonzaga.
San Antonio, Texas, USA
Sweet 16 Postgame Media Conference
Houston - 72, Arizona - 60
THE MODERATOR: We're going to be joined by Arizona head coach Tommy Lloyd, Bennedict Mathurin, Dalen Terry, and Christian Koloko.
Q. Tommy, you spoke yesterday about Houston's effort. You knew what they'd try to do defensively at both ends of the floor. How do you prepare for that? Just because you've rarely faced teams that play like that.
TOMMY LLOYD: Houston is one of those teams where you're better served off if you play them a couple times. I think the first time you play them, they do the things they're good at at such a high level, that it's hard for you to get comfortable the first time around, and maybe the second time you play them, you can try to tell your guys what's coming, but they actually have a lot better feel for it actually having experienced it.
Q. (Question in French.) Basically, what is going through his mind right now?
BENNEDICT MATHURIN: I said I don't have a lot to say. It was a tough game. There's a lot of things we could have done better to win the game. I don't have a lot to say.
Q. Coach, when you look at Azuolas and the way he played over the last two games, how do you assess it?
TOMMY LLOYD: He obviously didn't play very good by his standards the last couple games. I felt like at the start of the second half he was giving us something, and we were kind of able to get him in some different short role scenarios. He got downhill, and he had one of those weekends where he couldn't buy a shot.
I'm looking forward to taking a little bit of a rest for myself and for him and getting back in the gym with Zu. I think he's got a huge jump coming in his near future.
Q. For the players, you guys have had a lot of situations this year where you've managed somehow in the second half to pull out a run and make it happen. You never seemed to sustain anything today. What was the difference? Do you think it was a lack of aggression with some situations or something about the way they were doing it defensively?
CHRISTIAN KOLOKO: We're just going to give credit to them. They played a really good game. They did everything the coach wanted them to do. We came out in the second half and stopped playing our game, and we fell back to what we were doing the first half.
You've just got to give credit to them. They played really good. Yeah, they deserved to win.
Q. Tommy, how would you sum up this year? You fell in a tough one tonight. But a lot of accomplishments, Pac-12 regular season champions, Pac-12 tournament champions and the overall Number 1 seed, which is a great accomplishment.
TOMMY LLOYD: Overall it was great. I thanked these guys after the game. They're an amazing group of guys. I'll always be thankful for them. I think they helped me get Arizona basketball off to a good start in my tenure, and I'll always be thankful for them.
I think we really built some foundational pieces this year that are really going to serve us well moving forward. Extremely proud of the guys. Extremely proud of the coaching staff. We ran into a really good team tonight that was just a little bit too much for us.
Q. Bennedict, a lot of people wondering about what's next for you. What's in the works for you in the near future?
BENNEDICT MATHURIN: Next thing for me is to get in the gym and get better. Whatever the future has for me has for me. That's basically it.
Q. Gentlemen, congratulations on a good season. I know it had to be a really tough loss tonight. Coach, this one's for you. I'd like for you to talk to me please about the fan support that you saw in Tucson throughout the season and what it meant to you to have the fans come out to the game this weekend.
TOMMY LLOYD: Yeah, the fan support was great. We obviously have a tremendous fan base. It started out a little bit slow, but there's a lot of new things in the program. So we proved it, and once we started proving it, they came out. They really supported us.
I'm excited going forward because I want to build it and make it even better. I want our fan base to be the best in the country, and I think we have the potential to do that. I look forward to rolling up my sleeves this off-season and getting to work on that.
Q. Ben, you kind of got off to a slow start but were able to pick it up in the second half. What was it that Houston was doing defensively that kind of had you struggling there but you kind of got things going?
BENNEDICT MATHURIN: Obviously, I came back from a strong game, so I would just say they were pretty aggressive on me when I was dribbling the ball and coming off ball screens. So I would just say they were pretty aggressive on me. I was able to talk with my coaches and see what was the best options for me when I was coming out of ball screens or some read I could make in order for the team, the best of the team.
Q. Coach, this one's for you and for the players. Were you guys caught off guard by the defensive intensity? What do you think it was that not enabled you guys to get a run going and get into that offense we've seen all season long?
TOMMY LLOYD: They're great defensively. They're Number 1 or No. 2 ranked defense in the country for a reason. They're a hard team to get runs on because offensively they control the tempo and they're great offensive rebounding. It's hard to get multiple stops in a row to make those kind of runs.
Defensively they didn't do anything we didn't expect. I think we probably need a little more experience going against it. I'm sure I'll go back, and when I watch the film, I'll pick up some things I wish I would have saw during the game, but that's always how it goes.
They get a ton of credit. They do what they do, and they do it at a really high level. That's why they're consistently good.
Q. Dalen and Christian, you guys too, the way you played, it generated a lot of buzz for possibly NBA down the road. Do you feel like you have decisions to make this spring, or do you know yet? I know it's early, but just wondering your mindset.
DALEN TERRY: We're not thinking about that right now. We just lost a game. We're just going to get back to Tucson and relax for a little bit and get back in the gym.
CHRISTIAN KOLOKO: Same thing.
Q. Tommy addressed it, but I wonder if you three players could kind of reflect a bit on the season and how you guys feel about it overall.
CHRISTIAN KOLOKO: Can you repeat the question, please?
Q. Just wondering if you could reflect on the season as a whole, the way it's gone, and you guys obviously exceeded expectations in a lot of ways.
CHRISTIAN KOLOKO: We're proud of the guys. We started the season, and nobody believed in us. We made them believe in us. I want to thank the fans because they show us unbelievable support throughout the season.
Yeah, like I said, we started the season and no one believed in us. I think we were ranked -- some people ranked us like fifth in the Pac-12 or something like that. We exceeded that. We won the Pac-12 regular season, we won the Pac-12 tournament, and we get to the Sweet 16.
We knew we could have done better. That's why our team is sad right now. We knew we could have done better. We knew how good of a team we was, but right now we can't do anything. So we've just got to learn from it.