Arizona Basketball

Instant Classic: Arizona Hammers through to get OT win over TCU, 85-80

SAN DIEGO – The hammer came with 13:05 left in the game.

The second hammer came with 11 seconds left.

The third and final blow was the final pounding that lifted Arizona past a stubborn Texas Christian, 85-80 in the round of 32. Arizona is now 28-0 when it scores 80 or more points a game.

Now, Arizona (33-3) has hammered its way to its 20th Sweet 16 in school history. It’s the first time back in the Sweet 16 since 2017.

“Incredible battle,” Arizona’s coach Tommy Lloyd said. “I knew it was going to be a hard game.”

Hard was an understatement. In fact, the game was as good as advertised, given it was going match Arizona’s guile against TCU’s power.

Arizona celebrated in its locker room after defeating TCU on Sunday night in overtime. (photo courtesy Arizona Athletics)

Arizona survived TCU’s strength, despite giving up 19 second-half points.

Whatever it takes, right?

Arizona’s magical season was almost for naught until Arizona found the magic moments – hammers – to keep the memories going.

Lloyd talked about his two guys – Bennedict Mathurin and Christian Koloko – who “were obviously special today.”

“They pulled us through moments when it didn’t look good,” he added.

The Hammers, of course, were Mathurin’s thunderous dunk with 13:05 left to give Arizona a 54-52 lead after UA was down.

The 25-foot 3-pointer was Mathurin’s shot that eventually sent the game into overtime.

The third was Christian Koloko’s offensive rebound putback that sealed the deal.

“Ben’s not afraid of the moment,” Lloyd said. “He’s a special player who has the ability to rise up another level when needed. He has that clutch gene.”

It came through again, just like many times before this season. He lulls you to sleep and then boom!

Just like that dunk with 13:05 that helped Arizona take that lead.

“Whenever he can cut left and plant on his right foot he can go up and explode on somebody,” Lloyd said.  “And I’ve been on him to get that dunk all year, so I’m glad he finally got one this season.”

Sunday, it would have been the season had the Hammers not come through.

He did it again on that bomb of a 3-pointer with 11 seconds left and to make it 75-75.

“I honestly felt really good when he had the ball in his hands there because I knew he was going to shoot a 3,” Lloyd said. “I’ve seen him make that … right when he snapped the 3 off to tie it, it was pretty impressive.”

What wasn’t on Sunday night in front of a frenzied crowd at Viejas Arena?

Both sides played well enough to win … only one could.

“It hurt,” said TCU guard Mike Miles Jr. “We deserved to win that game and we didn’t.”

It hurt even further when he had the ball with seconds left and Arizona decided to double team him at the near-halfcourt line and the game tied at 75. As time ticked away, Miles Jr got caught having a tough time with Koloko and Dalen Terry. He fell to floor, losing the ball. Terry picked it up and raced to the basket but was a tick shy of making it before the buzzer.

Koloko said he was said to do the play because he thought TCU was going to try to draw a foul.

“We knew he was going to try to be the hero,” Koloko said. “We wanted to trap him. He turned it over and that’s what we wanted to do. It worked.”

Miles Jr had a different thought.

“I wouldn’t say it was not a foul, but it was a foul.” Miles Jr. said. “They didn’t call it. That’s what it was.”

Then came overtime – when Mathurin continued his magic – again. He finished with six points in the final five minutes.

It’s not like he’s not used to this. He did it in the finals of the Pac-12 title last week and again on Sunday. He finished with 30 points, going 8 for 19 from the floor. He had another Hammer moment with 1:11 left when he rebounded a Kerr Krissa miss and muscled the ball into the net. He made it 83-80.

“My coaches were getting on me for not getting enough rebounds,” he said. “I was pretty happy getting the rebound. I had to show emotions. I play a game I love most.”

If it wasn’t Mathurin saving the game in the second half, it was Koloko rising – literally – to the occasion in the first half. He did everything, getting 18 points to give Arizona a 39-36 tough-to-get-lead in the half.

He eventually finished with a career-high 28 points, hitting 12 of 13 shots. He added 12 rebounds and three blocks.

Arizona found a way because it had not choice. But that’s how it’s been for parts of the year when the games have been close.

“It’s just hang in there,” Lloyd said of telling them what to do. “Pick yourself back up. And don’t put your head down … I’m proud of this group. I mean, it’s been an amazing journey in my first year as a head coach. I don’t know if I deserve this, but those players deserve it. I’m so thankful that they get to experience this. Going to the Sweet 16 is special.”

So, on they go. They face Houston on Thursday in San Antonio.

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