As Arizona was getting ready to attempt to extend its comfortable lead over Oregon State on Saturday night, Azuolas Tubelis and Kerr Kriisa approached Tommy Lloyd to say if he wanted to they could sit so the bench could get some important playing time.
“They’re great teammates,” Lloyd said.
Lloyd chose to go with the starters to start the second half, keeping the team’s rhythm for a few more minutes.
By then, Arizona had a good, comfortable lead – not that it didn’t already – but Arizona was well on its way to win No. 21 as the month of February begins.
“You’d love to sit there and think you can have puppet strings on this whole thing and manipulate how you want all the time, but that’s just not how it goes,” Lloyd said. “I want to play (the bench) all the time, but it’s just not how it goes.”
Well, that’s how it went on Saturday night in McKale Center. UA defeated OSU 84-52 in a game that was never in doubt.
The deep bench played because the starters rolled. Azuolas Tubelis shined – again. He had 19 points and eight rebounds.
Courtney Ramey had 11 points, six rebounds. Pelle Larsson had 10 points. It was a mixed bag of mayhem from the Cats, who have won six consecutive games and continue to stay ½ game behind Pac-12 leader UCLA.
And Adama Bal, who hadn’t played much in the last month or so, was at his season’s best. He went in, got a rebound and a score in the first few seconds. He had eight points on two big 3s and two free throws.
“Adama is a good player,” Lloyd said. “I’ve always thought that and said that. I thought he had a lot of opportunities early in the year and it was a little bit of a mixed bag of results. The encouraging thing for me, and what I said to Adama, was his first play was an effort play, he got an offensive rebound. And then he hit three after that, and I think that’s what he has to understand. He has to put more emphasis on doing all the other things, and then the shooting and the offensive stuff will come in the flow of the game when he gets his opportunities.”
It’s likely the same for the others. It did for Filip Borvicanin, who, surprisingly, was the first deep bench player to come off of it.
“The minute I saw Filip come to the (scorer’s table) it made my night,” said Kylan Boswell. “It’s really nice to see other guys get to play. That really made me happy.”
The response made Borvicanin smile. He wants to contribute, but knows the chance with Larsson, Tubelis and others is difficult.
“It was hard for me, of course, to deal with that,” Borvicanin said. “But I tried to do my best in practices and coach gave me an opportunity and I tried to give my best.”
Fortune was on his side, given he hit a bank shot that put him in the box score. He added two free throws, as well.
Every player played and all but one shot the ball. The bench scored 22 points in a game that Arizona dominated all night.
It’s all helped Arizona continue its streak and possibly crack the top five in the polls, after some of the teams above the Cats have faltered. Does all the poll stuff matter?
“Don’t matter to me,” Lloyd said. “Not a bit. We gotta be locked. We’re going to the Bay Area next week, at Cal, at Stanford. You don’t ever take anything for granted on the road. And Stanford seems to be playing extremely well right now. So, we’re going in guns loaded.”
And perhaps a little more comfortable with a stronger bench … even if it was for just a night.
“I wanted to play other guys. I’m sure Zu could have played 10 more minutes, he’s in great shape. We had a big lead, I had younger guys I needed to play. Zu and Kerr (Kriisa) came up to me at halftime and told me they were fine not playing anymore. They wanted their teammates to play, they’re great teammates.”