No. 14 Arizona beats Cincinnati to beat Maui on Day 1

LAHAINA, Hawaii — At this point, it’s a rule: If Arizona and San Diego State in Hawaii are in an early-season college basketball tournament, they’ll find a path through the bracket to one another.

The No. 14 Wildcats completed the semi-final matchup to conclude Day 1 of the Maui Jim Maui Invitational and topped Cincinnati 101-93 in a high-octane first-round contest on Monday.

Arizona and No. 17 SDSU meet Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. (7:30 a.m. Pacific Time) for a spot in Wednesday’s championship. It’s a dream pairing for tournament organizers, as No. 9 Arkansas and No. 10 Creighton will meet on the other side of the bracket.

“(Brian) Dutcher, he’s got it down there,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said of his SDSU counterpart. “They have a distinct playstyle that they recruit for and develop. They do a really good job of attracting experienced players and buying in to play a hard hat type system. So we know it’s going to be a physical fight.”

Arizona defeated SDSU for the 2012 Diamond Head Classic championship on Christmas Day at the University of Hawaii’s Stan Sheriff Center. They reunited on the islands in 2014, with the Wildcats earning another top spot for the Maui Championship.

The head coaches were different. But in both cases, like now, they encounter leaderboards attached to their names.

On Monday, Arizona (4-0) won the Battle of the Cats with Cincinnati (3-2) in front of two well-represented fan bases while UA shot 62.3% from the field, 53.3% of them with 3-pointers Passing 17 made 3-pointers on 50% long-range shooting by the Bearcats.

The Wildcats repeatedly beat the Bearcats’ full-court press by lofting passes over the top to streaking receivers. That helped them gain a massive 52-26 color point advantage.

Forward Azoulas Tubelis had 30 points in 12-for-18 shooting with 11 rebounds, and center Oumar Ballo had 21 points, 10 rebounds double-double.

Cincinnati Guard Landers Nolley II, who was a member of the 2019 Maui Invitational All-Tournament Team with Virginia Tech, clearly felt comfortable returning to the event with a new team. He netted for 33 points in 12-for-18 shooting, including 9-for-14 in three-shooting, missing the tournament record by one shot.

“To have this opportunity to play this quality of competition is really an honor,” said Nolley. “I’m happy to be here.”

The Bearcats, in their final season at the American Athletic Conference before they are scheduled to join the Big 12, scored the last 10 points of the game in garbage time to fool the final lead. They will meet Ohio State rivals in a consolation semifinal at noon (5 p.m. EST).

Brian McInnis covers the state’s sports scene for Spectrum News Hawaii.