Houston shocks top-seeded Arizona in the Sweet 16

Houston's Jamal Shead, Kyler Edwards. No. 5 seed Houston upset No. 1 seed Arizona 72-60 in the NCAA tournament South Region Sweet 16 on Thursday, March 24, 2022, at the AT&T Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Houston guards Jamal Shead (left) and Kyler Edwards have a moment after the fifth-seeded Cougars knocked off the top-seeded Arizona Wildcats 72-60 in the Sweet 16 Thursday night at the AT&T Center. – Photo by Joe Alexander

When Houston Cougars guard Kyler Edwards buried a three-point shot from the corner with a little less than eight minutes remaining Thursday night, he turned around and shouted at his teammates on the bench.

His teammates waved their fists and shouted right back.

Obviously, both Edwards and the Houston bench sensed that something big might be happening. They were right. Led by Edwards, Jamal Shead and others, the fifth-seeded Cougars upset the top-seeded Arizona Wildcats 72-60 at the AT&T Center in the NCAA Sweet 16.

Houston's Josh Carlton. No. 5 seed Houston upset No. 1 seed Arizona 72-60 in the NCAA tournament South Region Sweet 16 on Thursday, March 24, 2022, at the AT&T Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Houston center Josh Carlton fights for the ball Thursday night at the AT&T Center. Carlton played against bigger players and finished with 10 points and seven rebounds. He was five for six from the field. – Photo by Joe Alexander

As a result, the Cougars will move on to play the Villanova Wildcats Saturday in the Elite Eight round of the tournament for the South regional title. The winner will advance to the Final Four next week in New Orleans.

“Our team, we’re a tough bunch,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “We’ve gotten a lot better as the season’s (gone) on. All the credit goes to these kids. You know, I can do whatever I want (but) the coach doesn’t win games. The players do.

“I’m really proud of this bunch. They bought into the game plan, and they’re not afraid of anybody. Whether it’s UAB or Illinois or Arizona. Our next game with Villanova, we’ll just move on to that one and do the best we can.”

Shead scored 21 points and Edwards had 19 as the Cougars (32-5) reached the Elite Eight round of the tournament for the second year in a row.

Houston coach Kelvin Sampson. No. 5 seed Houston upset No. 1 seed Arizona 72-60 in the NCAA tournament South Region Sweet 16 on Thursday, March 24, 2022, at the AT&T Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Coach Kelvin Sampson led the Houston Cougars to the Final Four last year. This year, the Cougars are now one win away from making a return trip. They’ll play Villanova in the Elite Eight round for the NCAA South regional title on Saturday at the AT&T Center. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Villanova (29-7) beat the Michigan Wolverines 63-55 in the South region’s other Sweet 16 match-up earlier Thursday.

For Shead and Edwards and the Cougars, playing in an NBA arena in a tournament game against an elite opponent like Arizona was a big. A loud and boisterous crowd that filled most of the seats spurred them on.

“We liked how the crowd showed up today,” Edwards said. “The crowd brought all the energy today. They really helped us.”

Added Shead: “The crowd was electric.”

Shead and Edwards helped create some of the electricity. A sophomore from Manor, Shead had 21 points, six assists and four rebounds. Edwards, a senior from Arlington, had 19 points. He hit 6 of 13 shots from the field, including 5 of 9 from three.

Dalen Terry paced the Wildcats with 17 points and six rebounds. Bennedict Mathurin had 15 but he was 4 of 14 from the field. Seven-foot-one Christian Koloko had 10 points, four rebounds and two blocks.

First-year Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said he thinks his team had a great year.

“Overall it was great,” he said. “I thanked these guys after the game. They’re an amazing group of guys. I’ll always be thankful for them. I think they helped me get Arizona basketball off to a good start in my tenure, and I’ll always be thankful for them.”

Houston's Ramon Walker Jr. No. 5 seed Houston upset No. 1 seed Arizona 72-60 in the NCAA tournament South Region Sweet 16 on Thursday, March 24, 2022, at the AT&T Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Freshman Ramon Walker Jr. played 26 minutes off the bench against top-seeded Arizona. He held his own with five points and three rebounds. – Photo by Joe Alexander

The Wildcats entered the Sweet 16 on a seven-game winning streak. In their last 18 games coming in to the meeting against the Cougars, they had gone 17-1. In the end, they finished 33-4.

“I think we really built some foundational pieces this year that are really going to serve us well moving forward,” Lloyd said. “Extremely proud of the guys. Extremely proud of the coaching staff. We ran into a really good team tonight that was just a little bit too much for us.”

First half

In Game Two of an NCAA Sweet 16 doubleheader at the AT&T Center, the Houston Cougars on Thursday night used seven players in the first half and all played a role in building a 34-28 lead on the Arizona Wildcats.

At one point, the fifth-seeded Cougars were up by 10 points — 29-19 — on the top seeded team in the South region.

Houston's Jamal Shead. No. 5 seed Houston upset No. 1 seed Arizona 72-60 in the NCAA tournament South Region Sweet 16 on Thursday, March 24, 2022, at the AT&T Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Sophomore Jamal Shead enjoyed a breakout performance for Houston against Arizona, scoring 21 points, passing for six assists and snaring five rebounds.- Photo by Joe Alexander

Kyler Edwards, a senior from Arlington, was perhaps the key player, holding Arizona star Bennedict Mathurin to five points and one field goal. Mathurin didn’t have a field goal until 1:33 left in the half.

Other standouts included Josh Carlton and Jamal Shead with six points apiece and Ramon Walker with five. Reggie Cheney had four. Both Walker and Cheney came off the bench to give the Cougars a lift.

Defensively, the Cougars were excellent. The Wildcats, one of the best offensive teams in the nation, were limited to 7 of 25 shooting from the field. Dalen Terry had eight points and Christian Koloko seven.

Highlights for the Cougars were plenty. Fabian White opened by hitting two straight shots from the field.

Carlton played with flair and finesse on the inside, snaking around taller and broader defenders to hit shots. Shead authored a key sequence with about six minutes left.

As Koloko fired a pass out from the post, Shead stole it near half court and sped the rest of the way for a layup. The play brought the Houston fans to their feet.

Houston's Kyler Edwards. No. 5 seed Houston upset No. 1 seed Arizona 72-60 in the NCAA tournament South Region Sweet 16 on Thursday, March 24, 2022, at the AT&T Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Houston’s Kyler Edwards hit five 3-point shots and scored 19 points Thursday night against the Arizona Wildcats. Defensively, Edwards helped to guard Bennedict Mathurin, who was held to 15 points on 4 of 14 from the field. — Photo by Joe Alexander.

Sweet 16 is set to tip off in San Antonio; Michigan-‘Nova up first

Good afternoon, all. I just sat down at press row at the AT&T Center. Time to rap out a few notes on the Sweet 16.

First, the Michigan-Villanova game.

Michigan (19-14) hopes to win and advance to the Elite Eight for the 15th time (16 if you include the 1993 game, which was vacated because of NCAA infractions).

The Wolverines have advanced to the Elite Eight round recently in 2018, when the John Beilein-coached team swept into the Final Four and lost the NCAA title game to Villanova, and last year under coach Juwan Howard. Last year, the UCLA Bruins beat the Wolverines by two in the R8 to deny Howard his first trip to the Final Four as a head coach.

If Michigan wins, it would be the second year in a row that an 11 seed has reached the Elite Eight but only the ninth time since 1985. Since ’85, only five 11 seeds have made it all the way to the Final Four.

The Wolverines started the season with high hopes but fell into a funk during Big Ten competition, going 4-4 leading into the postseason. After losing to Indiana in the first game of the conference tournament, Michigan entered NCAAs as a No. 11 seed and defeated six seed Colorado State (75-63) and three seed Tennessee (76-68).

Villanova (28-7) is shooting for its 16th trip to the Eight, 17 if you count the vacated 1971 tournament. The Wildcats have reached the R8 four times previously under Coach Jay Wright, advancing in 2006, 2009, 2016 and 2018. The Wildcats won NCAA championships in both 2016 and 2018. The ’18 title was claimed at the Alamodome with a victory over Michigan.

The Wildcats enter the Sweet 16 on a high. They’ve won seven straight. They’re also 12-1 in their last 13 games. Seeded second in the South, Villanova downed (15) Delaware 80-60 and (7) Ohio State 71-61.

In the second game of the night, it’s Houston vs. Arizona.

Houston (31-5) is hunting its 14th trip to the Elite Eight. The Cougars made the R8 last season on the way to its first Final Four trip in 37 years. The Quentin Grimes-led Cougars lost in the national semifinals to the Baylor Bears, who went on to claim the NCAA championship. It was Houston’s first Final Four since the 1983-’84 days of Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and Phi Slama Jama.

Despite losing two star players around the first of the calendar year, the Cougars are hot coming into the Sweet 16. They have won five straight. In their last 12 games, they are 11-1. Houston won the AAC tournament in Fort Worth with victories over Cincinnati, Tulane and Memphis. Moving into the NCAA tournament, the Cougars drew a No. 5 seed and set out for Pittsburgh, where they downed the UAB Blazers, 68-53, and then knocked off four seed Illinois, 68-53.

Arizona (33-3) hopes to win and claim a 12th berth in the Elite Eight. The Wildcats last made it to the R8 in 2011, 2014 and 2015. Arizona is one of the hottest teams in the nation at the moment. The Wildcats have won seven straight. In their last 18 games, they are 17-1. Arizona defeated Wright State, 87-70, in the first round of the tournament at San Diego. The Wildcats outlasted the TCU Horned Frogs, 85-80, in overtime in the round of 32.

Sweet 16 will showcase a handful of elite offensive talents


Arizona’s Bennedict Mathurin, shown here dunking against TCU Sunday night, is the player to watch in the Sweet 16 at the AT&T Center.

The NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 in the South region features a few individual offensive stylists on each of the four teams that could inspire even the most over-the-hill, couch potatoes to sign up for gym memberships in April.

Then again, some of your friends in the forever out-of-shape category may just want to tune into the games to watch the theatrics unfold, just for the heck of it.

Some, no doubt, will be inspired only to reach for another bag of chips, or for one more adult beverage — which is fine.

Regardless, we’ll explore this afternoon what both of Thursday night’s games will have to offer in terms of ball players who have the ability to score in streaks at the AT&T Center.

In the first game that tips off at 6:29 p.m., the 11th-seeded Michigan Wolverines will call on center Hunter Dickinson and guard Eli Brooks to do damage against the two-seed Villanova Wildcats.

They Wolverines will be tasked with slowing down some pretty good shot-makers on the Wildcats, as well, namely All-American guard Collin Gillespie and his backcourt mate, Justin Moore.

In the 8:59 p.m. nightcap, the high-flying, top-seeded Arizona Wildcats will showcase perhaps the most highly-rated player in the Sweet 16 in 6-foot-6 guard Bennedict Mathurin, plus a few other standouts, namely, forward Azuolas Tubelis and 7-1 center Christian Koloko.

The fifth-seeded Cougars, possibly the best defensive team in San Antonio this weekend, probably will prefer to play at a somewhat deliberate pace to keep the Wildcats from taking too many shots.

Also, the Cougars’ two best offensive threats — Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark — are injured and out for the season.

Regardless, Houston will start guards in Kyler Edwards, Jamal Shead and Taze Moore who can shoot and play in transition in stretches if it’s necessary. They’ve also got center Josh Carlton and reliable veteran forward Fabian White, a career 49 percent shooter.

Michigan vs. Villanova

In the opener, Dickinson, a 7-foot-1, 260-pound sophomore from Virginia, has emerged as a player who has carried the erratic Wolverines to back-to-back victories for the first time in a few months.

A left-hander with a deft touch from all three levels, he produced 48 points on 16 of 23 shooting combined against Colorado State and third-seeded Tennessee.

In one of his best outings of the season, Dickinson had 27 points and 11 rebounds in a 76-68 upset of the Volunteers.

Michigan coach Juwan Howard, one of the best big men in the nation when he played for the Wolverines, talked about the potential for a good show between Dickinson and Villanova’s Eric Dixon.

Though Dixon is only 6-7, Howard lauded his skillset.

“I know they talked about the guard play from Gillespie and Moore and others,” Howard said. “But Dixon, when you’re a 6-7 center … sometimes you look at that as slight. But he’s not just a center. He’s a basketball player … a competitive basketball player built with a lot of strength, toughness …

“(He) can shoot the basketball extremely well … (He) plays with a high IQ.”

Villanova coach Jay Wright said that he recruited Brooks out of high school at Spring Grove, Pa. In that regard, the coach knows what Michigan’s 6-1, fifth-year senior will bring to the table.

“I did see him getting this good, and this is what we thought he would be,” Wright said. “That’s why we recruited him. As I remember it — I’m not always good at this, but he visited our place, and then he told us he was going to take a visit to Michigan and then made his decision.

“Then he called me and told me he was going to Michigan. That’s what I remember.

“Great, great kid. Great family. This is kind of what we thought he’d be. We thought he’d be a four-year guy and a great player and winner, (a)champion by the time he was done … it’s a shame we got to go against him because you root for a guy like that.”

Houston vs. Arizona

Mathurin emerged as a hot topic of discussion in media interviews — and some of it was for reasons that didn’t have anything to do with basketball.

The Associated Press published a story saying that Mathurin, the Pac-12 Player of the Year, communicated by email to the TCU athletic department in an attempt to apologize following reports on social media that indicated he might have made contact with a TCU dance team member after a round of 32 game in San Diego last weekend.

Mathurin, who scored 30 points to lead the Wildcats past the Horned Frogs, reportedly was bowing to the crowd after the 85-80 overtime victory Sunday night.

As he turned toward the tunnel, the AP story said, “he appears to be looking the opposite way with his arms still outstretched when his left hand goes near the woman’s chest, though it is unclear whether there is any contact.”

Asked to respond Wednesday, Mathurin told reporters, “Yeah, I actually sent an e-mail trying to reach out to the cheerleader and sent (it) through the TCU athletic department. I reached out to her, and that is it.”

He declined to answer a follow-up question about whether he recalled touching the dancer when leaving the floor.

“I answered your question,” Mathurin said.

Playing against the Horned Frogs, the sophomore shooting guard sank a 3-pointer to tie the game in regulation and then scored six more points in overtime as Arizona survived against ninth-seeded TCU.

“He’s the best guard we’ve seen,” said Sampson, a former San Antonio Spurs assistant coach under Gregg Popovich. “That’s not coach speak, that’s the truth. I was in the NBA for six seasons, and he’s an NBA guy.

“He’s not going to go in and be a role player. He’ll start. He’s going to get drafted so high that they’re going to start him.”

In the Cougars, the Wildcats will need to guard an array of talent that, as a group, averages 75.2 points. The Cougars shoot 47.1 percent from the field as a team, including 34.4 percent from three.

“I’m so impressed just with how (their) players do what they’re told to do,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said. “Just the effort they play with. They max out every effort area. They’re well drilled on offense. They know the shots they want to take.

“They know who’s taking them, where they’re coming from, and they obviously do an amazing job offensive bounding. And then, defensively, the effort and energy they play with and attention to detail, it’s almost unmatched.”

With players buying into Sampson’s system, Houston ranks fourth in the nation in scoring defense (59 points per game), first in field goal percentage defense (37.5) and 11th in 3-point defense (28.8).

Nonetheless, the Cougars can also fill it up on offense, and the explosions can come from seemingly any position.

For instance, they have had three different players lead the team in scoring over the last five games.

In a span of three games at the American Athletic Conference tournament and two in the NCAA tournament, White and Edwards have led the Cougars in scoring twice, while Moore, who is usually a distributor, exploded for a season-high 21 in a 68-53 thumping of fourth-seeded Illinois on Sunday afternoon.

“Three-hour drive from home, we’re expecting a big turnout,” Carlton said. “But we also know Arizona … has a big fan base. We know their fans travel well, but we’re really expecting for our fans to show up.

“That’s the big benefit of having this game so close to home, being able to have the fans be there and support.

Records

Game One: Michigan (19-14) vs. Villanova (28-7).

Game Two: Arizona (33-3) vs. Houston (31-5)

No. 1 seed Arizona eliminates TCU in OT, advances to Sweet 16 in San Antonio

Pac-12 Player of the Year Bennedict Mathurin scored 30 points, and 7-foot-1 center Christian Koloko sank a put-back with five seconds left in overtime, leading the top-seeded Arizona Wildcats to an 85-80 NCAA tournament victory Sunday night in San Diego.

With the win, the Wildcats will move on to play the Houston Cougars in the Sweet 16. The South region battle betweeen the Wildcats (33-3) and the fifth-seeded Cougars (31-5) will take place on Thursday at the AT&T Center in San Antonio.

Chuck O’Bannon led the ninth-seeded Horned Frogs (21-13) with a career-high 23 points. Eddie Lampkin and Mike Miles scored 20 apiece. Lampkin pulled down 14 rebounds.

After finishing tied for fifth in the Big 12, the Horned Frogs took a No. 9 seed in the South and won their first-round game, downing the Seton Hall Pirates, 69-42.

In the round of 32, they played Arizona to the wire, holding a three-point lead in regulation until Mathurin tied the game with a three out of the corner.

Mathurin was masterful, hitting 8 of 19 from the field and 11 of 13 at the free throw line. He also had eight rebounds. Koloko also was a force. He produced 28 points and 12 rebounds. The center connected on 12 of 13 shots from the field.

“Incredible battle,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said. “I knew this was going to be a hard game. I try to tell our guys, TCU obviously plays in the Big 12 and they’re battle tested and they’re great defensively, and just so hard to keep off the glass.

“We weren’t having a crazy problem getting them to miss the first shot; it was just trying to get defensive rebounds. And so they get a ton of credit. They’re really hard to play against.”

O’Bannon expressed pride in what the Horned Frogs accomplished this season.

“This season was everything for us because we weren’t even expected to be here,” he said. “And for us to win our first game and be that close with the No. 1 seed just shows that we have a bunch of guys with a lot of grit. That’s all you can ask for.”

Notable

Michigan and Villanova will play Thursday at 6:29 p.m., while Arizona and Houston will tip off at 8:59 p.m., with both South region Sweet 16 matchups at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, according to the NCAA. The games will be aired on TBS. The Elite Eight game is scheduled for Saturday at the AT&T. The game time has not been announced.

Regulation

Forcing a TCU turnover on the last play of regulation, Arizona’s Dalen Terry picked up a loose ball and raced half the court to dunk it — a potential game-winning basket that was waved off because it came just after time had expired.

As a result, the contest went to overtime tied, 75-75.

Moments earlier, Eddie Lampkin’s rebound and put back gave the Horned Frogs a 75-72 lead. From there, the Wildcats came down and called on Bennedict Mathurin, who drained a three out of the corner to tie the game.

TCU brought the ball up and turned it over at half court. But it was too late for the Wildcats to do anything with it.

Earlier, the Horned Frogs had erased a nine-point deficit in the last eight minutes and appeared to be on the brink of a major upset. Big plays by TCU’s Chuck O’Bannon, Lamkin and Mike Miles sparked the rally.

Coaching uncertainty shadows No. 14 Arizona

Who is the coach of the 14th-ranked Arizona Wildcats?

It’s uncertain after assistant Lorenzo Romar coached the team Saturday night in Eugene, Oregon.

Embattled head coach Sean Miller wasn’t on the bench as the Oregon Ducks downed the Wildcats 98-93 in overtime.

Miller’s status is apparently under review after a report linking him to college basketball’s burgeoning corruption scandal surfaced late Friday night.

Here is the full story from azcentral.com.

The adversity comes at an inopportune time for Arizona.

The Wildcats host Stanford and Cal this week to close their regular-season schedule.

Also looming? The Pac-12 tournament and the NCAA tournament.

In the meantime, Arizona (22-7 and 12-4) is clearly in need of coaching-staff clarity.