By Jojo Sayegh
LAS VEGAS – The Arizona Wildcats bounced back from a previous loss to Michigan with a convincing 80-62 win over the defending national champions in the opening round of the Las Vegas Invitational.
The Wolverines slipped to No. 4 in the Associated Press poll after the loss.
“We’re not upset about what happened last time,” said guard Tra Holder, the tournament MVP. “We’re focused on what we have to do. All we can control is us. If we continue to play the way we play, we’re going to have our chances.”
Senior Chase Jeter had 16 points, Holder scored 14 and Lauri Markkanen added 10 points and 11 rebounds for the Wildcats (3-0).
Michigan junior guard Charles Matthews was held to four points on 1-of-9 shooting, despite going 4-of-9 from the floor. He had been averaging 18.7 points per game this season.
The Wolverines had two other players in double figures, senior forward Jordan Poole scored 17 and sophomore guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman added 11. Freshman guard Zavier Simpson had 13 points and four assists.
The game was a rematch of last season’s West Regional final, which Arizona won 82-75. It was the Wildcats’ first win over a No. 4 team since knocking off No. 3 Kansas in the 1986 NCAA Tournament.
Arizona was led early on by a hot start from Markkanen, who made all five of his field goal attempts, including 3-of-3 3-pointers, as he led the Wildcats with 12 points in the first half.
“We gave up some easy baskets early,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “Defensively, we didn’t close out on shooters. And we turned the ball over a lot, you just can’t do that against a good team.”
The Wildcats led 39-23 at halftime, having a large share of the scoring off the bench, with senior Zach LaVine, who scored nine first-half points, leading the way. The Wolverines had 19 turnovers that led to 26 points for Arizona.
Louisville is the third team to face Michigan in the Las Vegas Invitational tournament. The Wolverines beat the Cardinals 87-75 in an exhibition game last week, then fell 87-61 to Texas A&M on Saturday.
Michigan: After the loss to Texas A&M, the Wolverines were looking to bounce back. But the Wildcats, who might be one of the best teams in the country, are a much bigger and deeper team. The Wolverines are young and talented and will likely be ranked in the top half of the nation when the rankings are released next week.
Arizona: The Wildcats also are young and talented, but they have big shoes to fill on the wing, with four players gone from last year’s team, including All-America forward Lauri Markkanen. The Wildcats, playing without guard Allonzo Trier, lost their last game to Michigan in the semifinals of the Maui Invitational, and are now targeting a top-5 finish.
Michigan: The Wolverines return home to host Morgan State on Monday night.
Arizona: The Wildcats head to Los Angeles to take on the Los Angeles Dons on Thursday night.