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No. 11 Arizona beats Illinois in thriller

Sportsnaut
Dec 11, 2021; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Arizona Wildcats center Oumar Ballo (11) drives the ball to the basket at Illinois Fighting Illini center Kofi Cockburn (21) defends during the first half at State Farm Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 11, 2021; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Arizona Wildcats center Oumar Ballo (11) drives the ball to the basket at Illinois Fighting Illini center Kofi Cockburn (21) defends during the first half at State Farm Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Bennedict Mathurin scored a game-high 30 points to lead No. 11 Arizona to an 83-79 nonconference victory over host Illinois on Saturday afternoon at Champaign, Ill.

Kerr Kriisa contributed 17 of his 19 points during the second half for the Wildcats (9-0), who erased a 13-point first-half deficit and withstood a pressure-packed second half that featured nine lead changes. Azuolas Tubelis added 16 points and eight rebounds.

Trent Frazier paced Illinois (7-3) with 27 points and five steals while Alfonso Plummer posted 25 points. Kofi Cockburn added 13 points and 13 rebounds for the Illini, who saw their five-game winning streak come to an end.

Illinois had just four players reach the scoring column.

The Wildcats bolted to a 24-18 lead as they rebounded eight of their first 10 missed shots and turned most of them into second-chance points.

Illinois responded with 19 straight points in just 2 minutes, 49 seconds, as Frazier went on a spree that sent the sellout crowd into hysterics. He started with eight points in 43 seconds as he sandwiched two 3-pointers around a slick between-the-legs crossover that left an Arizona defender grasping at air while he pulled up for a 15-footer.

After an Arizona timeout, Frazier flushed another 3-pointer and Cockburn scored to cap a 13-0 run. Following a media timeout, Plummer cashed a 3-pointer and Frazier turned a steal into a layup and a free throw to give Illinois a 37-24 lead with 7:01 left in the half.

Arizona supplied the next 10 points — capped by Oumar Ballo’s alley-oop dunk from Justin Kier — to pull within 42-38 by halftime.

Illinois tried to establish the 7-foot Cockburn in the second half, but Arizona defenders snuffed him on each of the first three possessions. Meanwhile, Mathurin cashed a 3-pointer and Dalen Terry canned two free throws to hand Arizona a 43-42 edge.

That triggered a dizzying second-half display of swift runs and swifter responses. Illinois recovered to regain a 50-45 lead, but that just seemed to amuse Arizona. Kriisa swished two 3-pointers and fed Mathurin for another 3 to cap a 12-0 run that gave the Wildcats a 57-50 margin with 12:18 remaining.

That, in turn, inspired Plummer’s 8-point spree in 56 seconds to push Illinois ahead 64-61 with 9:25 left. Five lead changes later, Arizona delivered the defining blow with seven straight points in the final 2:30.

–Field Level Media