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March Madness marks the end for Monson as Arizona blows out Long Beach State

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SALT LAKE CITY -- — Arizona scored 16 straight points over a five-minute stretch Thursday to pull away for an 85-65 victory in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and snuff out Dan Monson’s coaching tenure at Long Beach State.

Kylan Boswell scored 20 points for the second-seeded Wildcats (26-8), who made 13 3-pointers, the program record for March Madness.

This marked the end of a 17-year stretch at Long Beach State for the 62-year-old Monson. He learned last week that he wouldn’t return next season. His team responded by unexpectedly winning the Big West Tournament to send the program to March Madness for the first time since 2012.

Arizona trailed by one with 2:34 left in the first half. A few free throws and a 3-pointer by Caleb Love started the Wildcats' onslaught before halftime. Keshad Johnson (13 points) kicked off the second half with a layup, a 3 and a dunk off an alley-oop from Love, who finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds.

By the time the surge was over at the 17:08 mark of the second half, Arizona led 50-35. Counting the halftime break, the 15th-seeded Beach went about 40 minutes without a basket.

The Wildcats will play either Nevada or Dayton in the second round of the West Region.

Aboubacar Traore and A.J. George led the Beach (21-15) with 14 points each.

After the buzzer, Monson shared a long hug at midcourt with his friend and protege, Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd. As Monson walked slowly toward the tunnel, he blew three kisses to the small cheering section in the corner, where tears were flowing.

The game might have been a microcosm of Long Beach State’s season.

Over the first 17 minutes, the Beach were grabbing loose balls, protecting the rim, making the extra pass. A pretty no-look from Lassina Traore to George led to a layup, a 28-24 lead and an arena full of believers.

Then, things fell apart and it got ugly — maybe reminiscent of the five-game losing streak that led to all this.

Monson took two quick timeouts to start the second half — on the second, he stomped onto the court, jawing at guard Marcus Tsohonis and anyone who would listen after the latest in a long stretch of bad defense.

As the game wound down, the coach stood on the sideline, hands on hips. Neither he nor his players had answers for the Pac-12 regular-season champions, who spent a couple weeks early this season ranked No. 1 in the AP poll.

Maybe it felt a tad better that the last loss came courtesy of Lloyd, who got his start when Monson hired him as a grad assistant before he left Gonzaga a quarter-century ago.

They had dinner together in Salt Lake City earlier this week.

Monson now heads home. Lloyd needs to find a few more places to eat in Salt Lake.

NO REPEAT

Arizona avoided a second straight first-round loss as a No. 2. Last year, Princeton upset the Wildcats in the opener. Monson spent Tuesday night’s dinner teasing Lloyd about how busy he was installing the Princeton offense.

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness