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Oumar Ballo named Pac-12's Most Improved Player, Azuolas Tubelis snubbed for Player of the Year

Both made the all-conference first team

Arizona-Wildcats-mens-basketball-oumar-ballo-azuolas-tubelis-pac12-awards-POY-most-improved-2023 Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

Arizona has the two best big men in the Pac-12, and arguably the top frontcourt duo in the country. But according to coaches, not the best overall player in the league.

Arizona’s Azuolas Tubelis and Oumar Ballo have been selected to the Pac-12’s all-conference first team, but it was UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez Jr. that beat out Tubelis for Player of the Year despite Jaquez’s numbers being inferior to those of the UA’s 6-foot-11 junior who led the conference in scoring (19.9) and rebounding (9.2).

The Wildcats did collect an individual conference award for the fourth consecutive year, though, as Ballo was tabbed as Most Improved Player. The 7-foot redshirt sophomore averaged 13.9 points and 8.6 rebounds on a conference-best 64.5 percent shooting, up from 6.8 points and 4.4 rebounds in 2021-22.

UCLA, which won the regular season title by four games over Arizona, collected four awards: POY, Coach of the Year (Mick Cronin), Defensive Player of the Year (Jaylen Clark) and Freshman of the Year (Adem Bona), while USC’s Reese Dixon-Waters won Sixth Man of the Year.

Had Tubelis won Player of the Year it would have made the UA the first Pac-12 school to have a player win that award in consecutive years since Cal in 2011-12 (Jorge Gutierrez) and 2012-13 (Allen Crabbe). Bennedict Mathurin was the 2021-22 Pac-12 POY.

Reigning Sixth Man of the Year Pelle Larsson, who led the Pac-12 in free throw shooting (84.6), was not eligible to repeat because he started more than 33 percent of Arizona’s conference games.

In addition to Ballo and Tubelis making the first team, Courtney Ramey was an honorable mention all-conference pick, while Ballo was an honorable mention all-defense selection and Kylan Boswell—who was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Week on Monday—was honorable mention on the all-freshman team.

Ramey finished third in the Pac-12 with 75 3-pointers, four behind teammate Kerr Kriisa, who led the conference in assists (167) and assists per game (5.4) for the second consecutive season but did not receive any postseason recognition.

The last Pac-12 player to lead the league in both assists and assists per game was USC’s Brandon Granville from 1999-2001.