SAN DIEGO — The hammer came with 13:05 left in the game.
The second hammer came with 11 seconds left.
The third and final blow was the final hammering that saw Arizona edge past a stubborn Texas Christian, 85-80 in the Round of 16. Arizona is now 28-0 when scoring 80 or more points per game.
Now Arizona (33-3) has fought its way to its 20and Sweet 16 in school history. This is the first time he has returned to the Sweet 16 since 2017.
“Amazing battle,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said. “I knew it was going to be a tough game.”
Hard was an understatement. In fact, the game was as good as advertised, given that it was going to match Arizona’s trickery against TCU’s might.
Arizona survived the strength of TCU, despite giving up 19 points in the second half.
All it takes, right?
Arizona’s magic season was nearly in vain until Arizona found the magic moments – the hammers – to hold the moment together.
Lloyd spoke of his two guys – Mathurin and Koloko – who “obviously were special today”.
“They helped us through times when things weren’t going well,” he added.
The Hammers, of course, were Bennedict Mathurin’s thunderous dunk with 13:05 to go to give Arizona a 54-52 lead after the loss to UA.
The 25-foot 3-point shot was Mathurin’s shot that ultimately sent the game into overtime.
The third was Christian Koloko’s offensive rebound that sealed the deal.
“Ben is not afraid of the moment,” Lloyd said. “He’s a special player who has the ability to raise another level when needed. He has that clutch gene.
He came back, like several times before this season. It lulls you to sleep and then boom!
Just like that dunk with 13:05 that helped Arizona take that lead.
“Any time he can cut left and plant on his right foot, he can go up and explode on somebody,” Lloyd said. “And I’ve been on him to get that dunk all year, so I’m glad he finally got one this season.”
Sunday would have been the season had the Hammers not been successful.
He did it again on that bombshell 3-pointer with 11 seconds left and to make it 75-75.
“Honestly, I felt really good when he had the ball in his hands because I knew he was going to shoot a 3,” Lloyd said. “I saw him do that…just when he broke the 3 to level it, it was pretty impressive.”
What went wrong Sunday night in front of a cheering crowd at the Viejas Arena?
Both teams played well enough to win…only one could.
“It hurts,” said TCU guard Mike Miles Jr. “We deserved to win this game and we didn’t.”
It hurt even more when he had the ball with seconds left and Arizona decided to double him at the near-half-court line and the game tied at 75. Over time, Miles Jr got made caught having a hard time with Koloko and Dalen Terry. . He fell to the ground, losing the ball. Terry picked it up and rushed to the basket but was one tick away from doing so before the buzzer.
Koloko said he was told to make the play because he thought TCU was going to try to foul.
“We knew he was going to try to be the hero,” Koloko said. “We wanted to trap him. He turned it around and that’s what we wanted to do. It worked.”
Miles Jr had a different thought.
“I wouldn’t say it wasn’t a foul, but it was a foul.” said Miles Jr. “They didn’t call him. That’s what it was.
Then came extra time – when Mathurin continued his magic – again. He finished with six points in the final five minutes.
It’s not like he wasn’t used to it. He did it in the Pac-12 title finals last week and again on Sunday. He finished with 30 points, going 8 for 19 from the floor. He had another Hammer moment with 1:11 to go when he bounced off a miss from Kerr Krissa and muscled the ball into the net. He made it 83-80.
“My coaches blamed me for not having enough rebounds,” he said. “I was pretty happy to have the rebound. I had to show emotions. I’m playing a game that I love the most.
If it wasn’t Mathurin who saved the game in the second half, it was Koloko who – quite literally – seized the opportunity in the first half. He did it all, scoring 18 points to give Arizona a tough 39-36 lead in the half.
He eventually finished with a career-high 28 points, making 12 of 13 shots. He added 12 rebounds and three blocks.
Arizona found a way because they had no choice. But that’s how it is during parts of the year when the games have been close.
“Just hang in there,” Lloyd said as he told them what to do. “Come back. And don’t lower your head… I’m proud of this band. I mean, it’s been an amazing journey in my first year as a head coach. I don’t know if I deserve it, but these players deserve it. I am so grateful that they can have this experience. Going to Sweet 16 is special.
So they go. They will face Houston on Thursday in San Antonio.