SAN DIEGO—The Arizona Wildcats won their first NCAA Tournament game in five years, easily beating Wright State 87-70 on Friday afternoon.
Top-seeded Arizona (32-3) will face No. 9 TCU, a 69-42 winner over No. 8 Seton Hall, in Sunday’s second round at Viejas Arena.
Our full recap can be found here. Below is a transcript of what coach Tommy Lloyd, center Christian Koloko and wings Pelle Larsson and Bennedict Mathurin had to say after the victory:
Lloyd on the win: “I was proud of how our guys hung in there today. The first time, for these guys, experiencing an NCAA Tournament. The first round game is always interesting. Not because it’s a 1-16, it’s because the way the crowd setup is. There’s a lot of Arizona fans there, but it’s a pretty calm atmosphere. As you get further into this tournament you feel more like you’re playing a home or a road game, which is what we’re used to. It felt a little like a neutral environment in there today. Just having these guys get a good feel for that is a good deal and ca good experience going forward.”
On Wright State: “Great effort. Wright State’s a good team, and they’re well-coached. They had a plan. They move really well without the ball. It really challenges you. No. 24, I think he’s a great cutter. 2, Holden, is a great cutter. They put so much pressure on your defense. And No. 1 is a really good point guard; he can probably play anywhere. And their big guy can score inside and put the ball on the floor, make pick-and-pop 3. It’s a tough cover.”
On the turnovers: “We had a lot of turnovers and it was from everybody, all these guys playing minutes. We’ve got to tighten it up. I don’t want these guys to play conservative. Obviously we’re playing without Kerr (Kriisa) right now. We have to tighten it up a little bit and hopefully we’ll be able to rein it in for the next game because we’re shooting a great percentage, but the turnovers on offense kill your efficiency.”
On the decision not to play Kriisa, and how it affected the offense: “Kerr has been our point guard all year. And he’s helped us run our offense, getting in our flow, help us in our transition, with decision-making. The calculus today was simple. I didn’t feel like he was quite ready to play. And was hoping that we could get through this game without needing him. And fortunately we were. Now we’ll kind of roll up our sleeves and see what tomorrow brings, keep attacking the thing. He’s closer to playing than not playing. So hopefully soon.”
On if he had to settle Justin Kier down early: “A little bit. He’s done that couple times early in these games where he’s come out and just kind of got tunnel vision and locked in on a pass, and kind of forced something instead of making reads. I’ll give him credit, though. Seems like every time he’s done that, his second run he’s calmed down and made better decisions. I think he did a good job kind of making some nice entry passes to get us post-ups in the second half.”
On having Kier and Dalen Terry split point guard duties with Kriisa out: “To be honest with you, looked like Dalen played the point a lot. I know you think I’m crazy, I don’t tell them, either one, to be the point guard. My idea is whichever one wants it should be it. And I was happy with that. We’re 3-0 without our starting point guard. It’s a great time of year to be 3-0.”
On the crowd cheering against Arizona at times: “The 1-16 game is never easy. There’s a lot of pressure. You could feel the start of the second half when they made a run and cut it to eight or six or whatever. I think more fans got behind them than just Wright State fans. That’s what makes these atmospheres interesting because you have, I don’t know if Seton Hall or TCU’s fans are rooting for us. So it makes it an interesting environment. And you’ve got to get used to that a little bit.
But I think as you start moving forward in the tournament, you know, it becomes a little bit more traditional games, where you feel like it’s either home or away which is a good feeling.”
On the arena not being full at tipoff: “I don’t know how, why it happens, I’m sure there’s a reason, but when you start a big game like this and the arena is 33 percent full, it’s weird. And I just never understood why can’t we have that thing full. And I guess obviously it’s a TV issue or something along those lines. But it’s weird to start those games like that. And so I’m glad our guys handled it well. And we came out on top.”
On Koloko’s career-high 6 assists after having only 5 all of March: “They were really collapsing on the pain, in all our penetration, and even in our post feeds. He had maybe two, three, or four post entries where he kicked it out to the perimeter for a 3. And they were digging off the ball side. That’s something we work on in our offense. It’s a great shot for us. And he made some really good decisions.”
On shooting 40 percent or better from 3 in three consecutive games for the first time all season: “It’s taking good shots. We’re good shooters. I’ve never really worried about our 3-point percentage too much, because we play aggressive. We play fast. Sometimes we shoot them a little too deep. But again I don’t want to crush their spirit. And now they kind of settled in.
“I was happy we only took 20 3s. I had a feeling they were going to guard us like they did. That’s hard sometimes when you’re literally almost not being guarded. They’re daring you to shoot jump shots to not settle. And we did a good job shooting a high percentage and made sure we made the right 3s.”
On not getting to the foul line: “The other thing (the Raiders) do really well is they don’t foul. I think we had one free throw attempt in the first half maybe and, what, 12 for the game. They do a good job not fouling. You’ve got to make shots.”
On if he needed to tell the team to relax heading into the game: “No, I thought we came out well. I was on them all week to come out aggressive, let it rip. Have some fun. First open 3, shoot it to make it. Those were the conversations I was having with them. If there’s a chance to go for a steal, go for a steal, get us in transition.
“But then after that initial wave, maybe that first emotional hit, you kind of hit a little bit of a lull and they wake up a little bit, and you end up in a ball game. At the end of the first half I probably didn’t do a great job managing it. With us being a little thin right now, I think we were up 16 with five minutes to go. And I didn’t want Christian to pick up a second foul. I kind of maybe subbed and played lineups I normally wouldn’t the last four or five minutes because I was trying to focus on it being a 40-minute game and I didn’t want to get into weird foul situations at the end of the first half.”
On getting the first game out of the way: “It’s good to get the result. We were excited to play. It’s a great opportunity. And the seed—I don’t think it should add any pressure. It might, but I don’t think it should because it’s just a reward for having a great regular season. And conference tournament.
“So it’s probably good to get it out of our system. I just told our guys we’ve got to tighten a few things up and Sunday it’s going to be a knock-down, drag-out heavyweight battle.”
On defending Wright State’s Tanner Holden, who had 37 against Bryant in the First Four: “I didn’t feel he was invisible in the start of the second half. They went to him second half. Great player we have great size across the board. We have physical defenders and we can guard him and we were trying to do a really good job playing clean and not fouling him and making him finish over the top. This is a guy that scored 37 points on shots at the rim. Maybe a mid-range shot or two. Doesn’t shoot many 3s. He made like 15 free throws last game. We really needed to do a good job keeping him off the line. I think our guys did a good job of that and our size probably impacted him a little.”
Koloko on if Arizona was tight or nervous early on: “We felt good. We felt pretty good at the beginning of the game. They were out there ready to play. We needed to play hard and we play hard. I think we just did what the coaches want us to do. I think we did a pretty good job the first half. The second half, like Coach taught us, the last three games we were down at halftime. So we needed to to come out the second half ready to play. They did a pretty good job. We got out on top that’s the most important thing.”
On being the first player in NCAA Tournament history with 17 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and five blocks:“It feels good. I didn’t even know. I think (communications director) Nate (Weichers) told me right before when we came in here. It feels good. I don’t know what to say. I was playing basketball and it just happened and so I’m just happy is.”
On Arizona’s 9 blocked shots: “For sure. For sure. Every time you get a block we know we’re going to run the floor. We have guys, they can run the floor. So we know we’re going to be out there and we can get easy layup or easy dunk because of that it would be amazing. Every time we get a block it’s good for us.”
On his first NCAA tourney experience: “It feels amazing. That’s why you come to Arizona. You come to Arizona to play in the NCAA Tournament. This is my third year. And this is my first time playing in this tournament. It just feels amazing. I hope we’ll get the win on Sunday, too.”
Larsson on showing emotion after a 3-pointer in the second half to put Arizona up 21: “Every play we make it’s just trying to get the team going and get the crowd going. Showing emotion has always helped us throughout the year. And so I just try to get the crowd going and my teammates.”
On his first NCAA tourney game: “Feels great. We’ve been trying to get here this whole time, so now that we’re here we have to realize it and enjoy and fight hard.”
On getting a standing ovation when coming out of the game for the walk-ons: “It’s really nice to have basically home audience on away games. We had it in Vegas, too. And to get that standing ovation, it’s just like, feels like you’re at home, like the fans make you feel at home. It’s a great feeling.”
Mathurin on playing his first NCAA tourney game: “It’s a pretty good experience. Like you said, I’ve never played, we’ve never played in March Madness. So having a win as a first game is always a great feeling.”
On how he thought the team did: “A lot of things to go over. We had a lot of turnovers, bad decisions we didn’t play with fundamentals at first, but we adjusted the second half, took care of the ball a little bit. And just do the things that we used to do the whole year, basically. So we had a pretty good experience, pretty good performance. But always need to improve.”