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Arizona men’s basketball dominates North Dakota State from wire to wire

arizona-wildcats-basketball-mens-ndsu-bison-recap-2021-koloko-mathurin-kriisa-tubelis-tommy-lloyd Arizona Athletics

Send it in to the big men early to wear them down, then shoot over their defeated soldiers. And for good measure, make scoring next to impossible.

That was Arizona’s offensive approach during Tuesday’s 97-45 win over North Dakota State at McKale Center, a game that was never in doubt after the first TV timeout.

Big men Christian Koloko (16) and Azuolas Tubelis (15) combined for 24 of their 31 points in the first half, with 26 of the team’s 44 first-half points coming in the paint. Then after halftime the Wildcats’ perimeter shooters took over by hitting 10 of 17 3-pointers. Overall the UA (3-0) shot 51.5 percent from the field and 48.1 percent from deep.

“It’s a simple formula,” said UA coach Tommy Lloyd, who said the game plan was to play physical early to set the tone.

Bennedict Mathurin scored a season-high 15 points, fueled by three triples in the first 4:05 of the second half, while Kerr Kriisa had 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting from beyond the arc and Kim Aiken Jr. was 3 of 3 from 3. And Oumar Ballo had another efficient night, producing 10 points and 7 rebounds in just 12 minutes on the court.

“We’re just trying to get the most baskets as possible,” Mathurin said of Arizona, which is averaging 94 points per game.

As impressive as the offense was yet again, even more so was Arizona’s defense. It held NDSU (2-2) to 26.2 percent shooting and made the Bison the third opponent in as many games to fail to to score more than 53 points, which last happened in 1949-50.

And the 52-point margin, combined with last Friday’s 104-50 win over UT-Rio Grande Valley, marked the first time since 1996-97 the Wildcats have beaten multiple teams by more than 50 points. The only other time they did so in back-to-back games was in 1920-21.

“There’s a formula to being a great team and make deep runs in tournaments,” Lloyd said. “You want to try to fight to be a top 20 defense and top 20 offense.”

Arizona started Tuesday night much like it did against UTRGV, running and scoring at will. The Wildcats started the game on an 11-0 run, with the first nine points coming on the break.

A 12-0 run late in the first half got the lead over 20, with Koloko getting seven of his 13 first-half points during that span.

Arizona led 44-23 at the half, the margin made closed thanks to a near-full court 3 by NDSU’s Willie Guy at the buzzer that gave one fan at McKale a $520 payout from betting over 66.5 first-half points. It then used a 24-4 run midway through the second half to turn what was already a runaway into an epic beatdown.

The UA returns to action Friday night against Wichita State at the Roman Main Event in Las Vegas. Wichita (3-0) beat Tarleton State 65-51 at home on Tuesday.