LAS VEGAS — It wasn’t a patented run of the Lute Olson era or of yesteryear for Arizona, but who cares when surviving and advancing is crucial and essential in March.
Arizona had one late in the second half to get some breathing room from Stanford in its 95-84 win.
It showed glimpses of (quasi) greatness. OK, that might be a stretch but, hey, they looked good doing it.
So relax and breathe. Breathe. Breathe.
It had one in the first half, one that was a 10-0 run after Stanford took an early lead and then came the game-crushing 10-0 run to save the moment and the game which allows No. 2 seed Arizona to face on Friday night. UA was up 69-68 then went up 79-68 in just over a minute. Just like that UA had some space.
“It feels amazing,” said Arizona’s Azuolas Tubelis, who had 20 points on nine for 12 shooting
Arizona looked amazing in that run. And it looked like it did for much of the early part of the season when UA ran away from opponents en route to big wins.
There was a moment where Kerr Kriisa got out on the break had Pelle Larsson on the left side, found him and Larsson went in for the dunk. Arizona’s win was all but complete, save for a couple of minutes.
And yet, Arizona had just 10 fast break points. Seemed like more.
How good is this team when Arizona can do what Arizona is capable of?
“I think we’re very good,” said Kerr, about the fastbreak possibilities. “If we start running like this and if we get stops and steals on defense, I think it’s a huge momentum play. This year we’ve had less than last year ….”
But it’s capable.
“That’s the stuff we do in practices, now we just have to translate it in our games,” Kerr said.
How does it feel to get those runs?
“It’s the best feeling ever,” Kerr said “All these 8-0, 9-0 runs and the teams have to take timeouts. It’s a huge thing for us.
And although the runs aren’t like they were last year – 15-0 or more runs – they’ll take them anyway they can get them.
“At this point of the year you take anything,” Kerr said. “It was a big run for us.”
Arizona moves to 26-6 overall and all but solidifies its no-worse than a second seed in next week’s NCAA Tournament. It faces Arizona State Friday night in a rematch from two weeks ago.
If it was not the two 10-0 runs that helped Arizona advance it was Arizona’s one-two punch – again – of Tubelis and Oumar Ballo, who combined for 44 points. Ballo had 24 points, looking like he did earlier in the season. He went 10 for 13 from the floor and hit four of seven free throws. He added six rebounds.
It was a big contrast from the last meeting with Stanford, which dominated near the basket. Stanford outrebounded UA, 34-26, then but this time UA prevailed 27-26. And last time, UA had just 12 points from Arizona’s dominating duo.
Arizona had 54 points in the paint to Stanford’s 22.
“We did a better job finishing (Thursday) and as that Stanford game played out offensively (last time) I think we made 16 threes (in the last game), which is a lot for us,” Lloyd said in comparing the first game to Thursday’s. “I think maybe we missed some layups (last time) and maybe lost our conviction to get the ball inside.”
That wasn’t the case at T-Mobile.
“Today we did an incredible job (of) hanging with the conviction,” Lloyd said. “They did a great adhering to a plan.”
Said Kerr: “Our bigs delivered once again.”
And then there was senior Cedric Henderson, Jr., who had a season-high 23 points. Courtney Ramey, after having a poor game last week, had 15 points. Each hit key shots in key moments.
“It’s great, me and Courtney work out together and we laugh (and have fun). We hang out together,” Henderson said. “We enjoy playing together. And we know that if we both play well the game is going to be (a good one) … and especially if Oumar and Zu are on the court it’s going to be (tough for others) especially with Oumar and Zu on the court.”
Kerr suffered a right shoulder injury of some sort late in the first half. He went to the locker room to be evaluated in the final minutes of the first half. He returned to the court with the team at halftime and showed enough mobility to return. It was taped up. But still aggravated him. He took no shots, save for two free throws. He missed the first one badly, then decided to shoot the second one with the left hand.
He joked that he was once left-handed when he was younger.
“I was built for this moment,” he said.
Lloyd said UA trainer Justin Kokoskie said Kriisa’s shoulder should be “better tomorrow than it was today.”
“That was a little crazy, but he’s that kind of kid,” Lloyd said of Kriisa shooting the free throw left handed. “I couldn’t stop it as it was happening, but the kid’s got courage. I guess I can say it here right now.”
… Lloyd passed former North Carolina coach Bill Guthridge for most wins by a second-year coach with 59 wins.
“It’s an honor,” Lloyd said. “I told these guys, honestly, I just want to play tomorrow. I’m so proud of these players for putting me in this position. And maybe to
pass Bill Guthridge, it is even a little extra special honor for me because I remember, I had settled in. I thought I was never leaving Gonzaga, and I was totally okay with that.
“And I would tell people jokingly, ‘I’ll just be the next Bill Guthridge. He was Dean Smith’s right-hand man. I’ll be Mark Few’s right-hand man and maybe get a
few years to be the head coach at the end of my career, and I would have been happy with it.”