Arizona Basketball

Thunder, lightning & some reign: Arizona’s bigs take over a sluggish first half

This one, Tommy Lloyd said, was on him.

The slow start to begin the game – something that has given fans the heebie jeebies – was on him Thursday night. The rest of it, well, that was on everyone who played near the basket and ran like crazy in Arizona’s 83-69 win over visiting Oregon State in McKale Center.

“I’m gonna wear that one today,” Lloyd said. “I mean, that’s all me. We got a little too tricky with our game planning and to be a good team you can’t trick the game. And that’s all me. We were trying some things defensively…  we obviously weren’t doing a very good job of doing (it) and I thought it took some of our aggression away and I just thought we were playing pretty lazy overall and probably a lot of that was the scheme.”

But like most every game this season – after all Arizona moved to 23-2 overall and 13-1 in the Pac-12 – Arizona found a way and got through it.

The scheme wasn’t anything new and nothing Lloyd hadn’t tried before, but when it doesn’t work, well, it doesn’t work. And it didn’t work for a few minutes and more in the first half. Arizona carried a slim 44-42 lead into the half.

“If you’re not playing extremely hard before you get to those (defenses) it’s a problem,” he said. “I just felt our ball pressure really dropped off. I thought our bigs weren’t playing like they were capable of playing. And I really challenged  them to pick me up.”

And they did. By going to what is the safest and most secure way to win for Arizona: go inside to the big men.

There’s no surer of a bet than getting the ball to Christian Koloko or Azuolas Tubelis or Oumar Ballo when Arizona needs points.

Azuolas Tubelis goes for two of his 22 points vs. Oregon State. (Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics)

To wit: Tubelis finished with 22 points.

Koloko had 16 points.

Ballo had seven points.

Thunder, lightning, and some reign.

Combined they shot an impressive 19 of 31, most coming from point-blank range.

And who doesn’t love points-in-the-point blank?

Arizona had 52 points in that space.

How many does Lloyd hope to get per game?

“A lot,” he said, with a smile. “I don’t have an ideal number. (Just) a lot more than the other team.”

OSU had 28 in the paint. It proved too painful for the shorter Beavers.

But that’s the case for many opponents who are much smaller than the taller Cats. So, well, Lloyd uses that to his obvious advantage.

“I’m going inside first. For me, we always want to go inside – attack inside out,” Lloyd said. “I think Zoos (Azuolas) is a special player. He gets you so many easy two-point baskets that aren’t sexy, but they just add up. Then, you go look at a lot of those runs we’ve had over the course of this year. It’s Zoo getting two or three laps to get us going, whether it’s in transition or (finding) one on a duck in (or) throwing a jump back or getting an offensive rebound. That’s beautiful basketball.”

That’s Zoo but the other cast of characters helping too.

“That’s the good thing about the team, we got different pieces,” Koloko said. “If they’ve got no shooting (on the perimeter), we still have a lot of bigs like me, Oumar, Zoo … we just got to deliver inside and you know, every time we get the ball, we just gotta deliver and play hard.”

Must be nice and fun to know going inside is a priority.

When Arizona started to pull away in the second half – at one point leading by 23 – Azuolas scored on a lay up then hit a jumper, hit a lay up then Koloko had back-to-back dunks. By then Arizona was up 59-47 and well on its way to win No. 23.

“It’s real fun,” Koloko said. “When the ball gets inside, you know, they’re going to get open shots too (eventually) because we can kick it out so it’s better for the guards.”

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