Justin Kier saw the shot clock with only one second left while near the halfcourt line with just a few seconds of the first half on Thursday night. So, he shot the ball and … and … and …
It went in, giving Arizona its final basket of the half to give it a surprisingly close 32-28 lead.
“We shoot a lot of half-courters in pregame,” he said. “It actually felt good the whole entire way. I kind of knew it was going in. I guess it was just luck of the draw.”
Arizona outscored the Buffaloes 44-27 the rest of the way to win 76-55 in McKale Center to move its record to 13-1 overall and 3-0 in the Pac-12 Conference. It gives Arizona the spot at the top of the conference given UCLA was upset by Oregon on Thursday night.
It turned out to be a nice night – depending on the moment – for Kier and the Cats. Kier had a team-high-tying 14 points coming off the bench. He played just 15 minutes, hitting five of nine shots.
“It’s just coming in and bringing energy,” he said of his role coming off the bench. “Bring energy no matter how the first five started. That’s on me and Pelle (Larsson, another reserve) it’s what we try to do.”
He did it well, save for the having to be scolded for a couple of lax moments when he was in there. UA coach Tommy Lloyd said not all was perfect with Kier.
“Pella is coming on, I really feel that and see that,” Lloyd said, when asked about his key reserves. “I really want him to tighten up his decision making. He’s really about to turn the corner. (He’s) going to be a significant contributor the second half of the season.
“I really challenged Justin today. Justin is really talented and some days he’s great and some days he’s not.”
Lloyd said he was upset Kier traveled with the ball late in the first half and missed a defensive assignment, “which was more concerning. … I challenged him to play better. When he plays better, he really helps us.”
He did on Thursday and has most of the year, coming in as a spark more often than not. He’s also the most seasoned veteran on the team given this is his sixth year of college basketball.
“I don’t’ know if it’s the age just because if I was a freshman and coming off the bench and coach needs me to do it, I’d do it,” he said. “I’ve always been a coachable guy and whatever the team needs is what I’m going to do – In practice and in games.”
Azuolas Tubelis appreciates it. With the bench doing what it did – Larsson added 12 points – it makes it easier for Arizona to look good.
“It makes our starters even better, our team looks better with them (doing well),” he said. “They need to continue to do what they are doing.”
The effort was good enough for a runaway win over the Buffaloes, who looked like they were going to get blown out in the first half but then rallied to make it close. Then, came the second half when Arizona just blew by them.
“Taking the foot off the gas, it’s something we can’t do,” Kier said of the first-half lapse. “Gotta stay aggressive and play your game. I know it’s something we will fix. Once we continue to do well (and) once we get up, we’ll be a good team, we already are a good team, but we’ll be a great team. We’re going to figure that out for sure.”
It all starts with two big words: energy and effort.
“We started the game with good effort and then we let our guard down a little bit,” Lloyd said. “We let our guard down and got stagnant on offense and had some questionable decision-making. We lost our effort. We had a talking to at halftime and the guys responded in the second half … I’m really proud with how the guys responded.”