Now on to the championship of the Maui Classic. Arizona has been here before a time or two through the years, but these guys haven’t. It’ll be a big stage for the young-and-stun Wildcats. But they are built for it.
Going 33-4 last year helps. Having two quality upper classmen – Courtney Ramey and Cedric Henderson – helps. Having two standout big men – Azuolas Tubelis and Oumar Ballo – helps. And having a guard – Kerr Kriisa – who plays so much confidence you’d think he’d never get flustered.
The pieces are there – again. Ramey is doing his best Bennedict Mathurin impression; Henderson is Dalen Terry.
In one era out the other. Just the names have changed. And yet seemingly nothing has changed. Arizona is winning like it did last year, going to 5-0 after Tuesday’s 87-70 win.
Wednesday will be its toughest test in facing 10th-ranked Creighton. It will play a team that isn’t exactly a mirror image of itself, but it’s close. Creighton shares the ball. They find the open man. They are fundamentally sound.
“They play a cool style of basketball,” said Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd.
Tommy said now it’s about “hunkering down to do what you do and adjust a little bit here and there,” he said.
It’ll be fast. It’ll be smart. It’ll be fun.
“We’ll go out and let it rip and see what happens,” Lloyd said.
It’s been like that for Arizona since Lloyd showed up at Arizona.
That was the case again on Tuesday night in its win over San Diego State in the tournament semifinals. Five UA players scored in double figures. Ramey led the way along with Kerr, who had 21 points, 18 in the second half. Tubelis had 14 points. Ballo had 12 points and Henderson had 10 points.
Arizona looked strong in the first half, jumping out to a comfortable double-digit lead only to see the lead evaporate at the end of the half to take a 37-33 lead at the break.
SDSU took over early in the second half before UA found its way midway through to return to form with its sharing of the ball and attacking the basket.
Once again, it was Ramey who led the way, much like he did on Monday night. On Tuesday, he finished with 21 points, hitting 8 of 12 shots including 5 of 5 3-pointers. Lloyd called Ramey “a hooper” on his postgame radio show. “And there’s still more to get there. I love what he’s bring us. He’s a special player.”
In the press conference, Lloyd waxed more poetic on Ramey.
“Courtney is hungry … he’s a hungry dude,” Lloyd said. “He’s got a little chip on his shoulder in a good way. He’s been waiting for this opportunity. I’m really proud of how he is coming along.”
It’s all still a work in progress given the shakeup of the lineup from last year’s departures. Gone are Bennedict Mathurin, Christian Koloko and Dalen Terry. In are Ramey, Cedric Henderson.
It’s still too early to tell how good they can be. But so far so good on a big stage.