The Pac-12 Conference’s men’s basketball awards announced Tuesday put a rubber stamp on the 2021-2022 Arizona Wildcats as one of the league’s best teams in recent memory.
Arizona won five of six league-wide awards: Tommy Lloyd won conference Coach of the Year, Bennedict Mathurin won Player of the Year, Christian Koloko won Defensive Player of the Year and Most Improved Player of the Year, and Pelle Larsson won Sixth Man of the Year.
Koloko, Mathurin and Azuolas Tubelis were named Pac-12 all-conference First Team selections, while Dalen Terry was an honorable mention and joined Koloko on the All-Defensive Team.
All together, four of Arizona’s five starters were honored by the Pac-12 as was its top bench contributor, Larsson.
Lloyd, speaking Tuesday at McKale Center before Arizona left for Las Vegas for the Pac-12 Tournament, characteristically deflected any praise toward himself.
“Honestly I feel great (about COY) because it’s a team award and our team has had success,” Lloyd said. “But to be honest, if there’s a negative part of paying attention scale, I was in the negative part of what people were thinking of me and the job I was going to do. It didn’t matter to me. I was throwing myself into the team and attacking this thing day by day, and I think that’s where my energy is more needed rather than worrying about what people think I can and can’t do.”
Lloyd is Arizona’s first COY winner since 2016-17, when Sean Miller won his third COY award.
Mathurin gives Arizona its first POY winner since Deandre Ayton in 2017-18. Like Lloyd, Mathurin was more interested in giving credit to those around him.
“It’s a super honor,” Mathurin said. “I wouldn’t be able without my team, so I’m just happy that I got Player of the Year. It’s a great achievement.”
Mathurin enters the post season averaging 17.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. He’s scored double figures in all of Arizona’s last 10 games.
“Benn’s had a dominant year. It’s been fun,” Lloyd said. “You watch how the year’s went, he might have started off slow his first couple games and then really took off in December, even late November too. Those early Pac-12 games he hit a patch where he struggled a little bit. Teams were throwing different things at him, and he adjusted and he’s gotten better.”
Koloko made history as Arizona’s first ever DPOY and MIP, two awards that Lloyd said are the product of him buying into the process that coaching staff set out last offseason.
“I said, ‘Now I need you to commit to working and sticking with the process and then hopefully what I’m going to you is, we’re gonna work hard, you’re gonna make progress, then you’re gonna want to work harder,” Lloyd said. “That’s the kind of cycle you want to get and he definitely has done that.”
Koloko took the awards in stride, pointing to advice he received from Miller, his former coach for two years.
“I think it’s just the recognition we all deserve. When you win games, you’re going to have recognition,” Koloko said. “Like coach Miller used to tell us every day, with team success comes individual accolades. That’s what we’re seeing right now.”
Koloko’s has emerged as one of the best post defenders in the nation this season and averages 2.8 blocks heading into the Pac-12 Tournament
“The offense is not going to always go your way so you’ve got to focus on something, and I think defense is something I always focus on because even if I’m not playing good on offense, I can always play good on defense,” Koloko said. “I think that’s what I’m trying to do every game.”
Of all the individual awards handed out Tuesday, the only surprise might have been Larsson winning Sixth Man of the Year over teammates Oumar Ballo and Justin Kier. Larsson entered last fall recovering from a broken foot injury but by conference play he was averaging over 20 minutes a game.
“I kept telling Pelle early in the year, and he thought I was crazy, I said December 1st, I knew you were going to be playing before that but that’s when you need to be closer to 100 percent and be yourself,” Lloyd said. “I think he got there and then by January 1, February 1, I think he was a better version of himself. He’s still really growing as a player. I can’t wait until this offseason to watch the jump he’s gonna make.”
Lloyd gave plenty of appreciation to Arizona’s backcourt of Terry and Kerr Kriisa, who missed out on all-conference First Team honors (Kriisa was left off the conference awards entirely.”
Earlier in the week, Seth Davis of The Athletic named Terry to the top of All-Glue team, given to players who hold a team together. Lloyd likened the award to being named an All-American.
“Dalen is 100 percent committed to the team,” Lloyd said. “I haven’t been around many players who can play with as much intensity and focus and fire and effort and energy for long periods of time.”
Lloyd also said Kriisa was “very deserving” to be on an all-conference team.
“The one thing we all know about Kerr is I don’t think it takes much to motivate him,” Lloyd said. “So he’ll respond great from this, but he’s my point guard and I wouldn’t choose any other. He’s done an unbelievable job leading this team. The one thing he cares about is winning. Point guards are evaluated on one stat: wins and losses. I think he’s done pretty well from that aspect this year.”
Added Mathurin, “Kerr, he’s a leader. He’s a team player. Not having any awards or recognition he don’t really care about it. We got the recognition we wanted. We’re one of the best teams in the country. Kerr loves winning. So him seeing us be great and him doing as well as a team is motivation.”