Arizona Basketball

Behind Ballo, Arizona wins Maui Invite for third time

Welcome to Tommy Lloyd 2.0 … as in oh my.

Arizona’s second-year coach has the Wildcats rolling once again … this year much like last year.

Arizona is now 6-0 after beating No. 10 Creighton, 81-79, in the championship of the Maui Invitational. Arizona has now won three Maui Classics (2000, 2014, 2022).

Last season, Lloyd and the Cats came on the scene with little fanfare and even smaller expectations, only to raise Arizona basketball again to great heights in one year. Well, he and the Cats are BACK!

The theme, at least the last three days, is: Go Fast, Go Strong and Go Big and (if so) the opponents will go home.  Arizona did all that and more the last three days in college basketball’s best pre-conference tester in Maui.

Arizona passed the test. Arizona went fast – again – by outscoring Creighton and then holding on.

It went big by going to UA big man Oumar Ballo, who had a career day, getting career-highs in points (30) and rebounds (13). He was all but unstoppable, hitting 14 of 17 shots around the basket. For the three days, he hit 27 of 34 shots, scoring 63 points and grabbing 32 rebounds to earn the tournament’s most valuable player honors.

“He’s awesome. You guys know what he means to me,” said Lloyd of Ballo, who came to Arizona along with Lloyd when Lloyd was hired 18 months ago. “He and I’ve been through a lot together. He’s a special guy.”

Lloyd said he had “a moment” with his center after the game and nearly became emotional talking about him.

“I really believe the best things in life are learned through a little adversity and he dealt with a lot of adversity,” Lloyd said. “For him to rise above that and kick ass the way he did. Let’s go.”

Go he did. Ballo scored the first basket of the game and never let up, save for some slowdown before roaring back again midway through the game to finish with 30 points. He has given Arizona a sizeable and tough-to-handle frontcourt with Azuolas Tubelis as his running partner. And, yes, that’s running partner. Both run the floor so well in Arizona’s run-and-stun offense. Creighton big men were no match for Ballo.

“I’ve always loved having the biggest, strongest guy on the floor,” Lloyd said.

Here in late November, Arizona proved to be the better team – barely. Arizona raced out to a 16-point lead in the first half only to settle for a 39-30 lead at intermission.

After not being able to shake Creighton in the second half, Arizona did, going up 14 again midway through the second half.

Arizona’s blows came from different people. Kerr Kriisa had 13 points; Tubelis had 12 points and Courtney Ramey finished with 10. The difference was Arizona outscoring Creighton 48-24 in the paint.

You couldn’t have painted a better picture from that.

“Everybody who came in the game today really contributed,” Lloyd said. “You build the lead in those games to absorb runs.”

Lloyd said – for the second consecutive game – that he has to find a solution for teams being able to close the gap to end games. UA had a comfortable lead before Creighton came roaring back.

“I thought we had them on the ropes three of four times, but they made runs to come back,” Lloyd said. “Those games get crazy at the end. You just gotta hang in there.”

Lloyd said he thought there was a time or two were his guys may have lost their minds but recovered.

“What it says about us is that we’re really good,” he said. “Really good teams can play in these types of games and throw some punches and take a few punches.”

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