Arizona didn’t have Kerr Kriisa, and it showed. But the Wildcats did have Azuolas Tubelis, and that was just as evident as Kriisa’s absence.
Tubelis scored a career-high 32 points as shorthanded Arizona overcame another poor first half and used a 21-0 run in the second half to beat Utah 82-64 on Saturday evening at McKale Center.
The 6-foot-11 sophomore was 14 of 24 from the field, the 24 attempts the most by a UA player in at least 13 seasons, and added eight rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block.
The sixth-ranked Wildcats (14-1, 4-0 Pac-12) trailed much of the first half as it struggled to run its offense without Kriisa, who did not play due to “non-COVID precautionary reasons,” the school announced. The sophomore point guard, who participated in the UA’s afternoon shootaround, was not on the bench for the game.
UA coach Tommy Lloyd said the game that Kriisa suffered an undisclosed injury during the team pregame meal, an injury that was the result of he and other players “horsing around.”
The UA turned it over 10 times in the first half while missing 11 of 12 3-pointers, but in the second half shot 59.4 percent overall and 50.8 percent for the game.
Christian Koloko had 16 points on 7-of-7 shooting with five rebounds and four blocks. He and Tubelis combined for 21 of Arizona’s 33 field goals as the Wildcats outscored Utah 56-28 in the paint.
Arizona led 34-31 at halftime after trailing by six with five minutes to go before the break. A 6-0 run fueled by a steal and slam from Dalen Terry and a lob from Koloko to Tubelis put Arizona up 44-35 with 14:27 left.
Back-to-back 3-pointers from Both Gach cut the margin to three, and a Gach jumper got the Utes within 46-45 with 12:24 to go before the Wildcats ran off 21 straight points to lead 67-45 with 5:18 left. That run included six straight from Tubelis, who after one basket gave a shrug to the crowd.
The Utes (8-9, 1-6) went scoreless for more than seven minutes and shot 37 percent in the second half. Early, though, Utah couldn’t miss, starting 6 of 8 from the field.
It led 24-18 on a layup by Gach with 5:05 left in the first half when Arizona started to get its transition game going. Kier outleted a rebound to a streaking Tubelis, who laid it up and was fouled, but missed the free throw, then Pelle Larsson stole it from Utah’s David Jenkins Jr. at the top of the key and drove it to the basket. He was also fouled, making the free throw to get the UA within 24-23 with 4:04 left in the first half.
A Koloko putback off a Tubelis missed free throw put Arizona up 30-28 with 1:40 left, which was its biggest lead to that point. Tubelis then went coast-to-coast on a steal and slam and banked in another putback to help build a 3-point lead at the break.
Arizona hits the road for its next three scheduled games, starting Thursday at Stanford and continuing at Cal (Sunday) and UCLA (Jan. 25).