The ball shot up the court like a rock skipping across water, one pass to the next until it reached an open shooter. There were dunks, 3-pointers, pull-up jumpers, quick dump-ins to the post. Most went in.
The key: Arizona’s defense.
Overwhelming Wyoming with a smothering defense, the No. 11 Wildcats outclassed the Cowboys in the first half on the way to a 94-65 win on Wednesday night.
“We didn’t want to get sped up and kind of play at our pace,” Wyoming coach Jeff Linder said. “But when you get down that much that early, you kind of start panicking and I thought we did panic just a little bit.”
The Wildcats (8-0) continued their run of overwhelming opponents, smothering the Cowboys (8-1) on the defensive end to set up easy baskets in transition for a 31-point halftime late.
Bennedict Mathurin soared for crowd-roaring dunks while scoring 24 points and had 10 rebounds, Kerr Kriisa and Azoulas Tubelis added 17 points. Justin Kier provided a lift off the bench with 13 points.
Arizona shot 53%, made 11 3-pointers and had 23 assists for its sixth win of at least 25 points this season. The Wildcats also had a 26-point advantage in the paint and nine steals while scoring 19 points off Wyoming’s 14 turnovers.
“I love the pace,” Tubelis said. “How we move the ball now is a high level of basketball.”
Xavier DuSell had 22 points and Graham Ike 17 to lead the Cowboys.
The game was a meeting of unexpected undefeated teams.
Arizona had several news players and a first-year coach in Tommy Lloyd. The Wildcats’ mix of new and old have been a perfect blend so far, playing with a similar up-tempo, free-flowing style Lloyd helped Mark Few create at Gonzaga.
Arizona entered Wednesday’s game as the national scoring leader with 91.5 points per game and assisted baskets at nearly 72%.
Wyoming lost Mountain West Conference freshman of the year Marcus Williams and was picked to finish eighth in the Mountain West. The Cowboys have been good at both ends, ranking in the top 15 in shooting and shooting defense.
Wyoming was No. 12 in the NCAA’s initial NET rankings after picking up road wins over Washington, Grand Canyon and Cal-State Fullerton already under their belt.
Of course, Arizona was No. 3 in the NET and proved to be the better team on this night.
The Wildcats are third nationally in average time of possession (14.3 seconds), according to KenPom, and were at their get-out-and-run best against Wyoming.
Using its defense to set up transition opportunities, Arizona left the Cowboys stuck in the desert sand with a series of dunks and 3-pointers to lead 53-22 at halftime. Kriisa set the tone with three early 3-pointers and Mathurin brought the crowd to its feet with a series of dunks, including one on an alley-oop from Dalen Terry where he almost hit his head on the rim.
Kriisa hit four of Arizona’s seven 3-pointers in the first half and matched Mathurin with 14 points by halftime.
“That first group was rolling,” Lloyd said.
The Wildcats’ defense was even better, forcing 11 first-half turnovers while holding Wyoming to 8-of-27 shooting and 1 of 12 from the 3-point arc.
The Cowboys started to find the range in the second half, making 15 of 31 shots. They still had no defensive answer for Arizona, which shot 18 of 37 to keep the lead around 30 for most of the second half.
“Once we kind of settled in, we were a little bit better, but it’s one of those things where we’re a good team and we’ve got to figure out how we’re going to respond,” Linder said. “.”
Wyoming got the season off to a good start, but ran into a buzz saw against Arizona. The Cowboys took an early blow and never recovered to see their undefeated season come to an end.
Another test passed by Arizona. The Wildcats overwhelmed Wyoming at both ends of the floor, showing they’re just as good on defense as their highly-touted offense.
Arizona is hoping two of its players will be in good shape for Saturday’s game against Illinois after spraining ankles.
Kriisa headed to the locker room in the first half after tweaking his ankle, but later returned.
Guard Pelle Larsson turned his left ankle — the same leg he suffered a broken foot this summer — in the first half and was limited to 11 minutes.
“You’re always worried for the next day,” Lloyd said. “You tape it up and you play if you can and not cause further injury.”
Wyoming hosts Utah Valley on Saturday.
Arizona plays at Illinois Saturday.
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