Arizona Basketball

Arizona’s fun-and-stun offense too much for Rio Grande

The obvious first question came with an obvious answer, well, an answer that was a bit self-serving but accurate.

It was your first double-double of your career, Christian (Koloko), how did you feel?

“I played great,” he said. “I knew I had to be ready. They came in undersized. We had to be ready.”

And he was. Arizona was. Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd warned his team of a potential street fight (more later) but it eventually turned into a walk in the park.

“He did a good job,” Azuolas Tubelis said of Koloko. “You can see the progress. He’s a better player. It’s a joy to play with him.”

Arizona’s big man was big time: 18 points and 11 rebounds and five blocked shots in Arizona’s run-and-fun win over visiting Rio Grande.

Fun and run? How could it not be, save for the 18 concerning turnovers.

At least the 100-plus points was refreshing given the walk-it-up-the-court game of years past. It had been two seasons since Arizona had scored more than 100 in a regulation game and before that it hadn’t done that since the 2008-09 season when Russ Pennell was the interim coach.

As for the blocks? “I just let the game come to me. I try to get as many as I can,” he said.

It’s all about timing. And well playing against smaller opponents, just as Arizona has the last couple of games and more specifically Friday night’s opponent.

Arizona’s Lloyd said Koloko has worked on his “physicality and he’s taking rim protection serious. Blocked shots are great (because) they can lead to a fast break, but so is a vertical contested missed layup. That’s where a lot of your fast breaks start.”

As Tubelis said Rio Grande wasn’t a “high-quality team” and clearly not one on the level of any Pac-12 team. Still, it did what it had to do – win.

The success came from all over, given Arizona had another 25-assist game. But the one-two punch of Koloko and Tubelis was undeniable.

First, Koloko, who dominated the middle.

“I told you all along, he’s really good,” UA coach Tommy Lloyd said. “He’s a force. He impacts the game every possession on both ends. I think he’s going to gain more confidence as the year goes on. People are going to have their hands full figuring what to do with him.”

Then came Tubelis, with 20 points and nine rebounds.

Azuolas Tubelis had 20 points and nine rebounds vs. Rio Grande. Photo courtesy

“I’ve challenged all year on being more physical and playing better defense,” Lloyd said. “He’s checking all those boxes. He can be the best running big man in the country. If you notice he’s running the floor and C Lo (Koloko) is trailing.”

To start his press conference – maybe speaking accidentally with an outside voice with an inside thought – Lloyd said, “I didn’t expect that … but I’ll take it.”

He thought Rio Grande would be more physical with its experience. He thought it would “be a street fight” and “are we down for a street fight.”

“To be a great team, you can do all these things that are cute but unless you are down to street fight there will be nights when you get out toughed. I didn’t want our team to get punched.”

Arizona hit first and often and, well, “broke their will,” Lloyd said.

And that was the end of that.

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