SAN ANTONIO—There’s no denying Arizona was fortunate to survive its second-round NCAA Tournament game against TCU, the late heroics of Bennedict Mathurin and Christian Koloko’s all-around stellar play having a lot to do with how it won. Had it finished on the losing end, though, it would easy to be point to what went wrong.
Turnovers and poor defensive rebounding nearly cost the Wildcats in San Diego, and a repeat performance in one or both of those areas in the Sweet 16 against Houston could lead to the end of their season.
Arizona (33-3) turned it over 16 times and lost the rebounding battle 48-44, giving up 20 offensive rebounds. Ten were pulled down by TCU big man Eddie Lampkin Jr., whom UA coach Tommy Lloyd said “gave us our lunch a little bit.”
Turnovers have been a season-long issue for top-seeded Arizona, which gives it away 18.2 percent of the time and has 35 in two NCAA tourney games. But the rebounding problems have been more noticeable of late, with TCU being the fourth opponent to grab at least 40 percent of its misses.
TCU was the No. 1 offensive rebounding team in the country, and it showed. Houston (31-5) isn’t far behind, at No. 3, and in its second-round win over No. 4 Illinois it had four different players pull down three offensive boards.
“I felt like we didn’t have great hits or great blockouts all game,” Lloyd said after the TCU win.
It didn’t help that Azuolas Tubelis played only 16 minutes, just four in the second half and none in overtime. Tubelis is Arizona’s third-best defensive rebounder, behind Christian Koloko and Oumar Ballo, but he only snagged two against TCU and also struggled on the offensive end with 2-of-7 shooting and three turnovers.
“I felt bad for Zu because he’s a heck of a player, but some days matchups are tough,” Lloyd said. “I’m sure he’s not happy with me, but we won and we need him Thursday. We need him to be good.”
As for the turnovers, TCU only converted those 16 takeaways (which included 11 steals) into 12 points, while Wright State managed only eight points off 19 UA turnovers in the first round. Houston leads the nation in field goal defense at 37.5 percent and plays at one of the slowest paces in the country, meaning scoring is going to be hard enough for Arizona without adding on possessions that don’t result in a shot or a trip to the foul line.
Arizona is a 1.5-point favorite over Houston, per DraftKings Sportsbook.