The highly anticipated matchup between the No. 1 Arizona Wildcats and No. 3 Purdue Boilermakers lived up to the hype, with Purdue pulling off a 92-84 victory in Indianapolis Saturday. Led by guard Fletcher Loyer’s 27 points and center Zach Edey’s dominant inside play, the Boilermakers made a resounding statement in taking down college basketball’s last remaining undefeated team.
Wild First Half Sets Stage for Purdue Comeback
Arizona came out firing, hitting six of its first seven shots to race out to a 15-5 lead. The Boilermakers responded with their own offensive barrage, sinking four straight three-pointers to spark a 17-2 run. It was a sign of the back-and-forth affair to come.
The lead changed hands six times in a frenetic first half that saw both teams shoot over 50% from the field. Arizona big man Azuolas Tubelis was the early catalyst for the Wildcats with 15 first-half points. But Purdue kept pace behind the hot perimeter shooting of Loyer and Braden Smith, who combined for 30 points before halftime. The Boilermakers took a slim 51-50 edge into the locker room.
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“It was just one of those games where on offense, whoever had the ball was at an advantage,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “There wasn’t a lot of defense being played early on.”
Boilermaker Guards Take Control After Halftime
The Boilermakers began the second half on an 8-3 spurt, with Loyer continuing his hot shooting from deep. Although Arizona kept the margin within single digits for much of the way, Purdue never trailed over the final 20 minutes.
Loyer and Smith were simply too much for the Wildcats to handle. The duo combined for 53 points while shooting 15-of-28 from the field and 12-of-22 on three-pointers. Loyer in particular was unconscious, draining seven triples on just 11 attempts.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been in that kind of zone like that before,” Loyer said. “My teammates just kept finding me, and the shots kept going in. It was unbelievable.”
On the other end, Purdue made things difficult on National Player of the Year candidate Tubelis. The junior standout shot just 5-of-14 in the second half after his hot start, often frustrated by the defense of Zach Edey. Tubelis finished with 23 points and 9 rebounds, below his season averages.
Dominant Zach Edey Anchors Purdue Defense
While Loyer and Smith supplied the perimeter potency, Purdue’s interior success started with Edey. The 7-foot-4 center amassed 16 points, 12 rebounds and 3 blocks while impacting countless Arizona shots. Edey’s combination of size and skill in the paint helped the Boilermakers maintain control throughout the comeback effort.
“You aren’t stopping Zach,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said bluntly. “With his touch and ability to shoot with either hand…the best you can hope for is to make things difficult.”
Edey set the tone defensively, but he wasn’t the only one making an impact inside. Caleb Furst added 10 rebounds and 3 blocks off the bench as Purdue dominated the glass 48-35. The Boilermakers also recorded 7 blocks compared to just 1 for Arizona.
“This was a total team effort, especially on defense,” Painter said. “We challenged shots at the rim and cleaned up the boards. Our guys accepted the challenge against a very talented offensive team.”
Statement Win Cements Purdue as Title Favorite
With the upset victory, Purdue makes an early claim as the team to beat in college basketball this season. The Boilermakers are now 10-0 with wins over Gonzaga, Duke and Arizona – three preseason favorites to win it all.
Purdue boasts one of the most efficient offenses in the country, with four starters averaging double-figure scoring. But it was the defense that set the tone in taking down top-ranked Arizona. If the Boilermakers can pair a shutdown defense with their dynamic offense, there may be no stopping them.
“It’s December, there’s a long way to go…but I’ll say this – that performance said a lot about who we are,” Painter stated.
Meanwhile, Arizona suffers its first loss after opening 9-0. A dominant rebounding team all season, the Wildcats were beaten soundly on the glass for one of the first times. It’s a performance Lloyd hopes his team will learn from with three months until March Madness.
“The way (Purdue) fought and scrapped embodied what you need to win games like this,” Lloyd said. “Hopefully our guys saw what’s necessary as we continue our journey.”
Both teams still have ambitious non-conference schedules ahead before league play tips off in January. But they secured an early signature win on the national stage – one that college basketball fans won’t soon forget.
“What a showcase game between two great teams,” Painter remarked. “Here’s hoping we get to see them again come April.”
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