Arizona forward Pelle Larsson had 12 points, five rebounds, five assists and four steals.
Oh, about one of those steals and three of those oh-so-important points.
With 9:11 left in the second half and Arizona clinging to a 51-50 lead, Larsson got a steal at halfcourt and then 10 seconds later hit a 3-pointer to give Arizona a 54-50 lead. It was significant in as much as it gave Arizona some breathing room – and a new spark – to not look back (even though it had to) – in its too-close-for-comfort 70-67 win against pesky Washington in McKale Center.
“They made a mistake,” Larsson said, of his steal. “First on the offensive end, and then they left me open, and the second mistake they have to pay, so I was just happy to knock it down.”
It helped secure – after moments of angst the rest of the way – Arizona’s 14th win of the season. UA is now 3-1 in the Pac-12 Conference.
Arizona went into the game a 19-point favorite and had to use every ounce of energy it had to get its 28th consecutive homecourt win. It was a win so crazy it may have had Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd a bit flustered, given he thought the game was being played on Monday … true story.
“Hey, I’m a coach,” he said, laughing, wanting you to believe all his thoughts are on the game.
It felt more like a Friday morning given the late start. Arizona finished a little after 11 p.m. and truthfully Arizona started late in the game as well, given UW, 9-6 going into the game, had a sizeable lead in the first half.
Washington did everything right and Arizona was just the opposite.
Arizona was down 11-4 in the game’s first four minutes.
Then down 18-11 with 12 minutes left.
Then 27-18 with eight minutes remaining.
Eventually, Arizona went on a 15-0 run to take the lead at 39-38 on a Kerr Kriisa 3-pointer.
“We’re just trying to protect the home court, so we take a lot of pride in that,” Larsson said of the run to get UA back.
Arizona settled for a 42-41 halftime deficit.
Arizona started slow again in the second half, down most of the early part before it rallied again.
“The start of the second half … wasn’t what we drew up, but it’s what happened, and our guys hung in there,” Lloyd said. “To be down (seven), come back, get close, tie it and then go up and make a little run and get up six or eight points. We hung in there.”
It’s what good teams do. Well, have to do if they want to remain relevant. And Arizona will do that. Arizona survived a tough, physical game, something rarely seen in Pac-12 play. Arizona will face it again a time or two the rest of the way, particularly in the NCAA tournament in two months.
Lloyd didn’t talk about the team’s toughness, but instead spoke about a factor in it: Oumar Ballo’s presence. What impressed him the most – in addition to his 15 points – was he was available given he had been ill the last few days. He had to go to the hospital, but Lloyd said he wouldn’t get into specifics.
“For him to give it up for his teammates says something about his character and him as a man,” Lloyd said. “I’m really proud that he’s on our side and, and you know, without him today, we don’t get this done.”
There was more, of course, but figure that Arizona struggled offensively all night against UW’s zone. Seven of Arizona’s top eight players shot below 50 percent. As a team, Arizona shot just 36 percent, Washington shot 42 percent, a reason why it was able to stay close all night.
“Great effort by our guys,” Lloyd said in his opening remarks in his postgame media session. “Washington played really well. We obviously didn’t play as well as we would have liked, but Washington gets a lot credit for that. I was really proud of our guys for having hung with it. I knew all along this team has some grit and we’re gonna get tested … We withstood some rallies today, go down 14 in the first half and hang with it and actually take the lead before halftime.”
And eventually get the win in the end.
Larsson had his presence there as well, playing some tough defense.
“Pelle is a great defender, and he’s really coming up,” Lloyd said. “I can see his confidence and feel his confidence grow. I wish he would have let a few more threes rip today, but he also had some great drives at the end when we didn’t have much going. He found Oumar for a dump down, or two, and got to the free throw line. Pelle is a heck of a player, and we need him to be great.”
Monday, um Thursday night, he was good enough to help win again.