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Career day for Oumar Ballo leads Arizona past Creighton for Maui Invitational title

arizona-wildcats-creighton-bluejays-mens-college-basketball-recap-stats-highlights-maui-invitational Photo by Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Tommy Lloyd has earned national acclaim for turning Christian Koloko and Dalen Terry into NBA draft picks and helping make Bennedict Mathurin a lottery pick and legitimate NBA Rookie of the Year candidate.

But his development of Oumar Ballo into one of the best big men in the country may be his greatest accomplishment.

Ballo posted career highs in points and rebounds, finishing up a dominant performance in the Maui Invitational as No. 14 Arizona edged No. 10 Creighton 81-79 on Wednesday afternoon in Lahaina, Hawaii. The 7-footer had 30 points on 14-of-17 shooting and 13 rebounds, helping the Wildcats (6-0) survive another round of foul trouble and a late push by the Blue Jays (6-1).

For the tourney, Ballo made 27 of 34 shots and finished with 63 points and 32 rebounds to win MVP honors.

The UA led 81-72 on a Ballo dunk with 2:21 left before missing its final three shots and having a shot clock violation. That allowed Creighton to rally, getting within three with 46 seconds left, and the Blue Jays had a chance to tie in the final seconds but Arizona fouled Ryan Nembhard 2.5 seconds left.

Nembhard made the first and intentionally missed the second but Azuolas Tubelis got the rebound and after a few fouls and an inbounds it was over.

Tubelis has 12 points and seven rebounds but sat much of the second half with foul trouble. Pelle Larsson and Kerr Kriisa also got to four fouls, missing significant time in the second half, but Kriisa still finished with 13 points and nine assists.

The UA led 39-30 at the half, avoiding the end-of-half scoring drought it had in the first two Maui games. The Wildcats shot only 44.4 percent in the first half, their worst rate of the season, but hit three of their first five shots after the break to go up 45-32.

That was despite losing Larsson, who was called for his third foul with 9.1 seconds left in the first half and then got his fourth just 26 seconds into the second half.

Consecutive 3s by Creighton’s Trey Alexander, Ryan Kalkbrenner and Baylor Scheierman got the Blue Jays within 47-43 with 15:04 left, but Arizona responded with a 12-2 run to build a 14-point edge with 12:19 remaining. Seven straight by Creighton cut it to 59-52, and it had a chance to get within two scores but Scheierman airballed a 3 and then Ballo got a friendly roll on the other side.

Tubelis got his fourth foul with 8 minutes remaining, then Kriisa got his fourth with 4:49 to go, but not before he scored seven of 11 points for the Wildcats to build the lead to 74-62.

Creighton cut it to 79-72 with 2:38 to go with Kriisa and Tubelis on the bench, but once they came back in Kriisa drove and fed Ballo for a dunk. A Scheierman 3 got the Blue Jays within 81-77 with 1:40 left, and Kalkbrenner hit 1 of 2 free throws to make it a 3-point game with 46.8 seconds remaining.

Arizona went to the paint early and often, getting 13 of its first 15 points close to the basket. Nine of those came from Ballo, who made his first four shots, while Tubelis scored twice inside.

Creighton hit six of its first 10 shots to take a 16-15 lead, but after that the Blue Jays were 4 of 16 from the field in the first half. Arizona retook the lead quickly, and led 24-21 when Larsson picked up two fouls in a 19-second span.

But just like in Tuesday night’s win over San Diego State, the UA played through foul trouble. It helped that Ballo continued his dominance, scoring twice more inside to build a 32-25 lead with 5:55 left in the first half.

A 7-0 run, including back-to-back 3s from Henderson and Ramey, gave the Wildcats a 39-28 edge with 50 seconds to go before the break.

Arizona returns to action on Dec. 1 when it opens Pac-12 play at Utah. The Wildcats’ next home game is Dec. 4 against Cal.