TUCSON, Ariz. -- — Caleb Love had gone with the flow during Arizona's first three games, even against old rival Duke.
The transfer from North Carolina was much more assertive against Belmont, providing Wildcats fans a glimpse of his game-changing ability.
Love scored 20 points and keyed a massive first-half run, freshman Motiejus Krivas also had 20 and No. 3 Arizona overpowered Belmont in a 100-68 rout Friday night.
“I was a little bit more aggressive coming into this game,” said Love, who shot 8 of 12 and had six assists. “The floor was opened up a little more because our offense is really fast and it opens things up for all of us.”
The Wildcats (4-0) mauled the smaller Bruins (2-2) inside, outscoring them 52-18 in the paint and grabbing 30 more rebounds. Arizona had 15 points off 17 offensive rebounds and shot 54% from the floor for its third blowout victory in four games.
Love got the Wildcats started, scoring 10 points during an 18-0 run and 15 in the first half to help Arizona build a 56-35 lead.
“I was really proud of the effort he was playing with. I felt like he was really establishing a standard of effort for him that was higher than he had done previously,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said. “I told him if you stay true to that, your moments are going to come and they did tonight.”
Malik Dia led Belmont with 21 points.
Love was one of the most sought-after players in the transfer portal after three seasons at North Carolina.
The springy 6-foot-4 guard took a star turn in the 2022 NCAA Tournament, scoring 30 points against UCLA in the Sweet 16 and 28 against Duke to send the Tar Heels to the national title game.
Love felt a lot less love last season as North Carolina struggled. Trying to play hero ball at times, he had his shot selection questioned as the Tar Heels went from preseason No. 1 to missing March Madness.
Love bought into Lloyd's team-first system through the first three games, picking his spots when to shine.
He gave the fans at McKale Center their first look at his get-hot-in-a-hurry skill set in the first half against Belmont. Love hit two 3-pointers during Arizona's big run, adding a difficult reverse layup and another in transition as the Wildcats built a 32-14 lead.
“When my shot is falling and things are going in rhythm, it's just knowing the right shots to take and the right plays to make," Love said.
Krivas took over from there, causing all kinds of problems for Belmont with his length. The 7-foot-2 Lithuanian repeatedly got deep post position and scored 10 points while grabbing eight rebounds in the first half.
Love hit a corner 3 and threw down a two-handed dunk on an inbounds play to give Arizona a 73-44 cushion early in the second half. He followed with three assists, including one behind the back and an alley-oop to Keshad Johnson to keep the rout going.
Belmont: The Bruins kept up with Arizona early with 3-point shooting. Once the Wildcats flexed their muscles inside, Belmont had no chance.
Arizona: The Wildcats were hurt last season by not having a go-to player, particularly in a first-round loss to Princeton in the NCAA Tournament. Love has shown he can be that player with his scoring flurry against Belmont and four clutch free throws in a win over No. 9 Duke last week.
Belmont: Plays Monmouth next Friday in Philadelphia.
Arizona: Hosts Texas-Arlington on Sunday.
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- Deldre Carr
- Kelly Pfeifer
- Tommy Johnson