Tommy Lloyd wasn’t ready to declare his team an elite one after three lopsided wins at home, preferring to wait until Arizona had faced a physical opponent. Wichita State provided that test, and the Wildcats earned a passing grade.
But not one worthy of the honor roll, not when it needed extra time to complete the assignment.
The UA knocked off Wichita State 82-78 in overtime on Friday night in the opening game of the Roman Main Event at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The Wildcats will face No. 4 Michigan on Sunday night in the tournament championship.
Arizona (4-0) opened OT on a 9-0 run over the first two minutes but only managed four free throws the rest of the way. Justin Kier’s two foul shots with 2.6 seconds remaining iced the victory after Wichita (3-1) got within 82-80 on a 3-pointer by Qua Grant with 3.2 seconds to go.
Bennedict Mathurin led the UA with 25 points and 10 rebounds, while Azuolas Tubelis had 16 and Christian Koloko 13 points, 11 rebounds and 4 blocks and Kerr Kriisa had 12 points, 4 rebounds and 6 assists. Arizona shot 40.7 percent, going 10 of 34 in the second half and OT, and were 5 of 27 from 3-point range and missed 13 of 42 free throws.
Wichita shot only 33.8 percent, the fourth straight opponent Arizona has held to under 36 percent, and missed half its 24 foul shots.
As sloppy as the game was offensively at times it was even more so in terms of ball security. The teams combined for 37, 22 by Arizona, and 52 fouls were committed with four players fouling out.
The UA led 40-33 at the half, shooting 56 percent but also turning it over 12 times. It began the second half on an 8-0 run, holding the Shockers scoreless for the first 4:14, but it could have been much worse had it not started 3 of 12 from the field and turned it over several more times.
Arizona upped the lead to 54-38 with 12:23 left on a coast-to-coast drive by Kier, but after Wichita called timeout it went on a 13-0 run to make it a 3-point game with 9:45 left.
The Shockers got within 56-55 with 8:46 left on a 3-pointer by Tyson Etienne, who had 24 of his game-high 27 points (on 27 shots) in the second half or OT. The UA regained its composure and scored the next seven points including a 3 by Kriisa.
Arizona had missed its first 14 3s in the second half before that make.
But more Arizona turnovers allowed Wichita to get back within 63-59, turning a bad pass by Kier and a 10-second backcourt violation into two quick baskets.
The Shockers tied it at 64 with 2:10 left on a 3 by Qua Grant, then Wichita became the first team to take a lead on Arizona this season with 1:41 to go when Grant made the first of two foul shots. In between Azuolas Tubelis missed two free throws, then after the UA fell behind he was called for traveling.
Dalen Terry, who picked up his fourth foul early in the second half and only played 16 minutes, made two free throws with 58 seconds left to put Arizona back up 66-65. He fouled Etienne on a 3 on the next possession to end his night, but Etienne only made 1 of 3 free throws to tie it at 66 with 37.1 seconds to go.
Tubelis’ 3-point play with 21.5 seconds to go gave Arizona a 69-66 edge but Etienne forced the extra session with a 3 with 14.5 seconds to go.
In OT, Koloko opened the scoring with a layup then Mathurin made 1 of 2 free throws after being intentionally fouled by Wichita’s Ricky Council IV on a potential breakaway. Kriisa scored the next five points on a 3 and two free throws, then a free throw by Tubelis made it 77-69 with 3:04 left.
Arizona would go 0 for 3 from the field after that, with Kriisa also missing two free throws with 18 seconds left that enabled the Shockers to hit a 3 and get within 2 in the final seconds.
Arizona’s defense was in full effect early on, holding Wichita scoreless and forcing two turnovers in the first 2:30, including a shot clock violation on the game’s opening possessions. The UA wasn’t able to run anywhere near as much as it had in its previous games yet it still jumped out to a 15-8 lead with 11:58 left in the first half on a blow by from Kier that forced WSU coach Isaac Brown to call timeout.
The UA led by as much as 14, going up 34-20 with 5:09 left on Mathurin’s third 3-pointer of the first half, before it got sloppy on both ends of the court. Wichita responded with an 8-0 run to pull within 34-26 with 3:07 to go.