Arizona’s Bennedict Mathurin will begin his quest for a third consecutive Pac-12 Player of the Week award when the No. 8 Wildcats take on Northern Colorado on Wednesday night in Tucson, Ariz.
Arizona (9-0) is coming off a thrilling 83-79 victory at Illinois on Saturday, when Mathurin struck for 30 points, including hitting 5 of 8 from 3-point range. In wins over the Illini and Wyoming last week, he averaged 27 points, 8.5 rebounds and three assists while shooting 60.6 percent from the field (20 of 33).
“I felt like coming into the season I had to do it by myself, but it’s about trusting my teammates,” said Mathurin, who is averaging a team-high 18.4 points per game after scoring 83 in the past three contests. “Me trusting them, and also that they can find me and I’m going to find them. The goal is to win, so if I get 20 points or I score five points, all I want to do is win.”
The Wildcats have been doing plenty of winning, becoming one of the surprise teams in the early season under first-year coach Tommy Lloyd, whose team looks fast, free and confident.
This week’s two challenges — including California Baptist on Saturday — will be the final warmups before a treacherous stretch of three road games — No. 18 Tennessee (Dec. 22), No. 4 UCLA (Dec. 30) and No. 10 Southern California (Jan. 2).
Northern Colorado (6-5) has won three consecutive games by narrow margins, defeating Montana State, Montana, and South Dakota by a total of eight points.
“I think showing that mental toughness to get through and to be dialed in against three really good opponents was big for us,” Bears coach Steve Smiley said after the South Dakota game. “We’re not anywhere near close (to a finished product), but we’re trending up.”
Northern Colorado is an experienced team, led by senior guards Daylen Kountz and Matt Johnson II.
Kountz is averaging 18.9 points and has seven 20-point games this season. Johnson is second on the team at 12.4 points per game. They have combined to make 39 of 101 3-point attempts.
Mathurin is Arizona’s smooth, athletic playmaker who can also knock down the long ball. However, the Wildcats have a variety of weapons, entering the week leading the nation in scoring (90.7 points per game) and assists (21.8).
Post players Azuolas Tubelis (15.8 points per game) and Christian Koloko (13.2) each shoot over 60 percent. Kerr Kriisa is averaging 11.9 points and is a 3-point gunner, hitting 25 of 72 (34.7 percent).
But Kriisa gave defenses something else to worry about with his second-half performance against the Illini, when he uncharacteristically hit a series of floaters in the lane en route to 17 points after the break.
“Amazing,” Lloyd said. “I remember when I first got the job, I was watching him shoot layups and floaters and he literally couldn’t make one. He didn’t make them last year. He has really honed in on it. The staff has done an amazing job helping him.”
The Wildcats began the week No. 1 nationally in scoring margin at 29 points per game.
Arizona rotational wing Kim Aiken Jr. has missed the past two games due to what Lloyd described as personal reasons. There was no update Monday as to whether Aiken would be available Wednesday night.
–Field Level Media