Take a bow, Bennedict Mathurin.

You’re a full-blown star. And everyone now knows it.

The TCU fans under the basket chanted “overrated” at the Pac-12 Player of the Year as he stood at the free throw line with the No. 1 seed Arizona Wildcats locked in a knock-down, drag-out, fistfight with the ninth-seeded Horned Frogs. Mathurin just smiled. They’d see. From that moment through to the end of Arizona’s thrilling 85-80 overtime victory over TCU, Mathurin poured in 18 of his game-high 30 points.

He met a TCU defender at the summit and put him on the most outrageous of posters. He climbed the ladder to snare rebounds from TCU defenders. He calmly lasered a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 13 seconds left to tie the game at 75-all and force overtime. Then, in the overtime period, he scored six of Arizona’s 10 points to help seal the win.

As other top seeds went down in flames during this opening weekend of March madness, Arizona stayed alive thanks to Mathurin’s brilliance.

“Benn’s not afraid of the moment,” Arizona head coach Tommy Lloyd said of his star guard after the game. “He’s a special player who has an ability to rise up another level when needed. He has that clutch gene.”

Mathurin finished with 30 points and eight boards. He shot 11-for-13 from the foul line. When Arizona needed a shot in the arm, it was Mathurin flying in to deliver the adrenaline. He and forward Christian Koloko (28 points, more on him in a minute) were the only Wildcats to score more than six points.

TCU turned Sunday night’s second-round game into a battle of wills. The Horned Frogs grabbed 20 offensive rebounds. They pushed Arizona in a way few have this season. TCU center Eddie Lampkin had a career-high 20 points and 14 boards, 10 of which came on the offensive glass. “I thought Lampkin gave us our lunch a little bit,” Lloyd said.

They made Arizona earn it.

Mathurin and Koloko sure did that.

“We came here to win,” said Mathurin.

And they’re not ready to go home yet.

With a little over nine minutes to play, a triple from Kerr Kriisa—back on the court for the first time after suffering a sprained ankle against Stanford in the Pac-12 Tournament—ignited an 8-0 Arizona run.

While that avalanche of transition points and momentum never quite came for the Wildcats, their defense gave way for a different kind of run. Arizona held TCU without a made shot from the field for exactly six minutes midway through the second half as it built up a nine-point lead. During that stretch, the Horned Frogs missed 12 straight shots from the field.

So much of the Wildcats’ early success was predicated on feeding Koloko down low. The 7-footer was sitting on 24 points with 7:52 to play, only missing one of his 12 shots to that point in the game.

But then the Wildcats got a little too complacent on offense and started settling for jumpers. Give TCU’s defense credit for battling inside, but Arizona got away from running its stuff after it jumped out ahead.

And so TCU punched back with a 12-0 run of its own to take a three-point lead as the clock ticked under three minutes to play.

A massive corner triple from Dalen Terry tied it, then a bucket inside and a single free throw from Lampkin restored the TCU lead.

Thirty seconds on the clock and Arizona brought the ball up the floor needing points. A bit of prodding at the TCU defense yielded nothing, so Terry kicked back out to Mathurin at the top of the key to reset. Twenty seconds left. Mathurin surveyed. Koloko came to set a screen. Mathurin rejected it and crossed over moving right to left.

He rose.

He fired.

He held the pose.


Tie ballgame.

“I honestly felt really good when he had the ball in his hands there (at the end of regulation) and I knew he was going to shoot a 3,” Lloyd said. “I’ve seen him make that when he has the ball in his left hand. Right when he snapped that 3 off to tie it, it was pretty impressive. ”

TCU would get a shot at a potential game-winner, but then chaos ensued.

Lloyd called for a trap with Koloko on the ball. The big man admitted a little bit of fear washed over him as the play unfolded; with TCU in the bonus, a foul might lose Arizona the game. But Lloyd had confidence in his defense and knew that TCU’s Mike Miles would be the guy with the ball in his hands, moving left, and using a ball screen.

Said Koloko: “We knew he was going to try to be the hero.”

“Christian’s got amazing feet. He had a flat trap situation earlier in the game where he gave up his hips and I’m always on him about that,” added Lloyd. “We had a really agile, mobile group out there, so I thought, ‘What the heck, there’s 10 seconds to go in the game, let’s throw a trap on them and see what happens and we’ll live with it.'”

They almost won with it.

Terry’s dunk was waved off and to overtime we went.

Arizona went up four, then TCU brought it back to one.

Then Mathurin again stole the spotlight.

And that proved to be the difference. In a game of emotional swings, Arizona landed the final punch.

“These two guys (Mathurin and Koloko) were obviously special today, and they pulled us through in moments when it didn’t look good,” Lloyd said. “But, I know this, I believed the whole time and I think they did too. Just the way they were communicating in the huddles, I knew we had to hang in there and make a play or two and we could get this thing over the top.”

Koloko finished with a career-high scoring to go with 12 boards and two blocked shots. He had the capper on the win with nine seconds left, soaring in to slam home an offensive rebound and give the ‘Cats the five-point edge. Challenged all night by Lampkin’s physicality in the paint, it was Koloko and Mathurin slamming the door shut on a win to send the Wildcats through to the Sweet 16.

“It was simple: it was win or go home,” he said. “We knew we’d have to battle. That’s not the first time we’ve been down, we knew we just had to keep playing our game.”

Call TCU (21-13, with top-10 wins this season over Kansas and Texas Tech) under-seeded. Call into question whether there should have been a foul called on Arizona at the end of regulation—Lloyd thought they could have just as easily called a backcourt violation on TCU. Call Arizona shaky.

One way or another, championship teams have their hardware and their mettle forged in the tournament. You gotta survive one of these. Arizona gets 5-seed Houston next Thursday. It doesn’t get easier, but this squad surely feels now like they have the chance to do something pretty special here. And they’re only a few more wins away.

“I don’t know if I deserve this, but those players deserve it and I’m so thankful that they get to experience this,” Lloyd said. “Going to a Sweet 16 is special.

“These games are hard and the pressure’s immense. For a bunch of young guys that have never been to an NCAA Tournament with a first-year head coach, to hang in there like that, it just says a lot about them. I’m most proud of them.”