Arizona’s defense down the stretch enabled it to sneak out of Illinois with a win last weekend. That part of the Wildcats’ game apparently didn’t make it back on the same charter flight.
The UA played its worst defensive game of the season—for the first 30 minutes, at least—yet still managed to outscore Northern Colorado, winning 101-76 on Wednesday night at McKale Center to remain unbeaten.
Christian Koloko had 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting with 8 rebounds and 4 blocks, Kerr Kriisa had 17 with 7 assists and Azuolas Tubelis had 16 points, 8 rebounds and a career-best 8 assists. Arizona shot 53.4 percent, won the rebounding battle 44-24 and outscored Northern Colorado 60-28 in the paint.
The eighth-ranked Wildcats are 10-0 for the first time since 2014-15, but for the second game in a row their inability to defend the 3-point line was a glaring flaw. Northern Colorado (6-6) made 11 of 26 3s, including 6 of 13 in the second half one game after Illinois hit 16 from outside.
UNC’s Daylen Kountz, who began his career at Colorado, scored a career-high 33 points and was 12 of 19 from the field and 4 of 5 from 3, while Drew Kukhausen made 4 of 10 from outside.
Arizona led 52-42 at the half, shooting 57.6 percent but allowing 56.7 percent. Northern Colorado stayed hot, making 6 of its first 8 after the break, but the Wildcats maintained a 7- to 11-point lead until the Kukhausen scored six in a row to pull them with 69-64 with 12:47 left.
The lead was 73-67 with 10:26 left when coach Kriisa was fouled on a 3-point shot, triggering a TV timeout. Coach Tommy Lloyd, who has been vocal about the undersized crowds at McKale, implored the fans in attendance to stand up and cheer their team, and they obliged as Kriisa made all three foul shots and then Oumar Ballo dunked on the following UA possession.
Northern Colorado got within eight with 8:22 left but then Arizona went on an 8-0 run to up the edge to 88-72 with 5:46 remaining. During that stretch UNC’s Kur Jongkuch missed three free throws in a 32-second stretch, airballing a 1-and-1 to the left of the basket and then bricking two others.
The Wildcats outscored the Bears 21-4 over the final 8-plus minutes to nearly push the 25-point spread.
Tubelis had 11 of Arizona’s first 13 points as the Wildcats jumped out to an 8-point lead less than six minutes in. That’s when Kountz started to catch fire, and his teammates followed suit, making seven straight shots to lead 22-20 with 9:52 remaining in the first half.
Arizona went on a 12-1 run to build a 32-23 lead thanks to back-to-back 3-pointers from Kriisa. But Kountz and Johnson kept making shots, pulling them within 44-42 with 2:20 left before the Wildcats scored the final eight before halftime.
The UA plays its final home game of 2021 on Saturday against Cal Baptist (8-2) before embarking on a 4-game road trip.