Zu and the crew were back … for how long is anyone’s guess. But Thursday night for long stretches the Wildcats looked the part of their old selves.
Can it continue on Saturday vs. UCLA? We will see, but first Thursday’s 87-81 win over host USC was one of their better overall efforts in at least three weeks.
Azuolas “Zu” Tubelis, who had been in a slump for a three-week stretch, looked like the player he was for most of the season, finishing with 25 points and 10 rebounds for his 12th double-double of the season.
“I thought Zu was kind of back to how he was playing earlier in the year,” said Lloyd, who picked up his 58th win as a head coach. That is tied for the most by a second-year head coach. “I knew he’d come back. He’s such a high character, good guy. He wants to do well for the team. I just thought how we offensive rebounded to start the game kind of set the tone for us.”
Arizona jumped out to a 43-31 halftime lead.
Arizona moved to 25-5 on the season and secured second place in the Pac-12 Conference behind UCLA.
Arizona hasn’t lost consecutive games under second-year head coach Tommy Lloyd.
It was a game so good – minus a time or two – that five players scored in double figures. Courtney Ramey had 16 points, Kylan Boswell had 14, Kerr Kriisa had 11 and Oumar Ballo had 10.
“We’re a good, well-rounded team,” Lloyd said on his postgame radio show. “We want to be like that.”
He added: “I thought our guys played really solid overall and pretty consistent for the most part all game. They made a few little mini runs at us, but we withstood them. I thought we did a better job of taking care of the basketball, and obviously we’ve been emphasizing that as we get towards the end of the season.”
Last week may have been that wakeup call given Arizona had a 10-point lead with about five minutes left in the game against Arizona State.
“You get that eight, 11-point lead you got to take care of the ball,” he said. “I thought our guys did a much better job for the most part, turning down some high-risk plays and making sure we had good possessions.”
Of course, USC did make it close near the end, after trailing by 14 with a little over two minutes left. It closed within five, but a steal by Boswell in the final minute helped seal the win.
“It’s so nice where we are at the point where we can count on him,” Lloyd said of Boswell. “He gives us a real physical presence at that guard spot. He’s heady and skilled and not scared.”
Arizona as a team played the same well as well. It went back to sharing the ball and getting the ball to the big men. And the big men finishing. Just like old times.
UA outscored USC 34-22 in the paint. And Ballo and Tubelis proved to be too much.
“We’re gonna do what we do and I think you see the impact Oumar has out there,” Lloyd said. “He can be wrong and all that stuff, but he’s just so physically strong that guys aren’t used to playing against that. I thought Oumar played really. I don’t know if his numbers were off the charts. But, I thought he played really well. And in the real physical presence that you know, you come down and able to pound the ball and do a couple possessions in a row. They tried some stuff on him or not guarding him and things like that. And for the most part, it wasn’t perfect, but I think he handled it pretty well.”
Arizona faces UCLA in Pauley Pavilion, hoping to sweep the series and perhaps convince the NCAA tournament committee they are worthy of a high seed.
“We’re playing a great UCLA team on the road on senior night,” Lloyd said. “You know I mean they’re deserving of all the accolades that are coming their way. We’re gonna go there and give it a shot.”