Arizona men’s basketball notebook: Arizona draws the No.1 seed, Kriisa is nearing a return and potential rematches with Tennessee and Illinois in the near future


Ryan Wohl

(Left to right) Oumar Ballo, Adama Bal and Christian Koloko celebrate in T-Mobile arena after winning the Pac-12 Tournament Championship on March 12. 

Ryan Wohl

Arizona receives a No.1 seed 

A few days removed from beating the UCLA Bruins by 8 points in the Pac-12 Tournament Championship in Las Vegas on March 12 the Arizona men’s basketball team is the No.1 seed in the south region of the NCAA bracket.

“It’s a great honor to be a one seed and I know the guys are very deserving, they have had an incredible year and we’re excited going forward,” Lloyd said.

Head coach Tommy Lloyd is only the third coach in college basketball history to receive a No.1 seed in the march madness tournament while being a first-year coach. Also, the last time that the Wildcats were a No.1 seed in the tournament, they lost to the the University of Wisconsin by 1 point in the Elite Eight.

The Wildcats have had some tournament success throughout the past two decades but maybe not the amount you would think. It has now been a 21-year drought since Arizona has made it to a final four and that last occurred when they got to the National Championship but ended up losing to Duke in 2000-01.

But this season seems to be a little bit different and special.

“I’m a really emotional guy, you know. I love the people that I’m with. I love my players and my staff,” Lloyd said. “And we put a lot into this. When we have those moments, it’s pretty special. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being emotional.”

While this group, including head coach Lloyd, hasn’t been in Tucson together for a while, their bond sure seems to be unbreakable.

Kerr Kriisa vs Peter Kiss?

Arizona starting point guard, Kerr Kriisa was injured at the end of their quarterfinal’s matchup against Stanford University in the Pac-12 Tournament but a return to the court seems imminent.

“I would say they are hopeful; I don’t think this is like [Azuolas Tubelis’s] sprain and obviously it’s a real sprain, but I think there’s a real chance,” Lloyd said.

After the Wildcats had to overcome some adversity without their lead guard, they still managed to get two big victories against the University of Colorado Boulder and UCLA in the Pac-12 Tournament. Adding Kriisa back into the fold will be a huge addition to a near-perfect performance against the Bruins. He will bring his incredible energy, passion, toughness, shooting and passing to the court and look to bring Arizona back to the full strength that we saw throughout the season.

Arizona will face the winner of Bryant University vs. Wright State University in tonight’s first four matchups but even though they are 16 seeds, one team is not like the other. Bryant has the leading scorer in the country with senior guard Peter Kiss, who is averaging 25.1 points per game. But Kiss is not just a great scorer, he is a cocky player that enjoys talking trash to opposing players and fans.

South Region review 

When looking at the South region that the Wildcats are in, you will see some familiar faces along the way. The University of Tennessee are a No. 3 seed and beat Arizona earlier in the season in Knoxville during a close game. The four seed is the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who Arizona beat on the road at the beginning of the year. The Wildcats could see the Illini in the Sweet Sixteen while they wouldn’t matchup with Tennessee until the Elite Eight. Villanova is a No. 2 seed and would potentially vs Arizona with a Final Four berth on the line. Overall, I believe Arizona drew the best region of the No. 1 seeds in the tournament. They will have to face some tough teams but this group is battle-tested heading into March Madness.

Round of 64 preview 

The Wildcats will now face Wright State in the round of 64. Experience may not be an advantage that Arizona has this season heading into March Madness, but confidence within the group is present.

“I always think it’s cool to be playing meaningful games, and obviously these are meaningful games, and we’re not going to make them out to be more they are. It’s a basketball game,” Lloyd said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to go, continue to make a mark. So, we’re going to attack it. We’re not defending anything, we’re going for it.”

Lloyd has been a part of many talented teams that have been in National Championships and playing deep in March, but there are firsts for everything and this will be his first experience in the tournament being a head coach. Most of the roster doesn’t have experience in the tournament but one guy that does is, Oumar Ballo. He was on Gonzaga last season when they ended up losing to Baylor University in the National Championship, but this season his role has changed.

“It feels great. This is the biggest stage of the year,” Ballo said. “We are not underestimating any team we are trying to play every game like our last game.”

Sixth-year guard, Justin Kier has plenty of college basketball experience but has yet to play in an NCAA Tournament game. This group of players have only been all together for one season but they have created an unbreakable bond.

“I’m grateful, man. I’m blessed, and to do it with these group of guys makes it even more special,” Kier said. “Because we’re never gonna be together again, and I think it’s hitting a lot of guys, you know, and we love each other so much.”

Arizona sophomore’s Bennedict Mathurin and Dalen Terry have yet to play in a March Madness Tournament and all though they are grateful for what they have achieved this year, they still remember their freshmen season.

“I mean, it’s a blessing, but it’s also rat poison. Take it with a grain of salt. So, I just got to think where we came from and how long it took us to get here,” Terry said.

If the Wildcats win their first game on Friday they will move on to the round of 32, where they will face the winner of No. 8 Seton Hall University versus No. 9 Texas Christian University on Sunday.

“I’m looking forward for my first time in March Madness. We have a great team so I’m pretty excited about this” Mathurin said.

This game will tip-off at 4:27 P.M. MST tomorrow and is happening in San Diego, California.

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