LAS VEGAS—The Arizona Wildcats are headed to the Pac-12 title game for the first time since 2018, getting there via an 82-72 win Friday night over Colorado.
Our full recap is here. Below is what coach Tommy Lloyd, guard Justin Kier and forward Azuolas Tubelis had to say about the victory.
Lloyd on the win: “Great effort, considering all the circumstances. On a quick turnaround, they took a scouting report and they really hung with the game plan. We obviously made some adjustments from last time we played these guys, and these guys get a ton of credit.”
On his assistant coaches: “We did a lot of things out there that traditionally I’m not very comfortable with today. I almost get emotional thinking what those guys mean to me, but they had some great ideas and we hung with it. Those guys, I told them after the game, our staff, the care factor is off the charts. For those guys to talk me into what we did today, they deserve a lot of credit because I can be pretty hard-headed sometimes.”
On what his staff talked him into doing differently: “Just be way more, have way more gap integrity in our defense, and then we kind of got the ball pressure a little bit better once we settled into the game. I think down at CU, they scored like over 50 points in the paint and we lost our all our defensive principles. We’re a great paint protection team. Sometimes I get greedy I want both, I want the paint protected and I don’t want to give up any threes, and usually that’s a pretty good formula, but sometimes you got to pick your poison against these teams. And a short prep, we picked our poison, we knew we were going to be down bodies a little bit, and so we wanted to be good (on) ball pressure and stickier in the gaps, and I think our guy, they obviously did a great job executing it. It looks like they made eight 2-point field goals in 40 minutes, and if my math is right, they were 8 for 30 from 2. You got to make a lot of threes to overcome that, and then we did a great job not putting them on the foul line, because they were shooting a lot of jump shots. It was a winning formula.”
On Arizona going 24 of 25 from the line: “It’s a game of averages. I mean, it’s great, to step up and make them. And yesterday I think we missed some early, maybe just getting a feel for the arena, the ball, the gym, the rims, the whole thing. When Zu makes his free throws like that, and we get locked-in Zu he’s pretty special. And Dalen, the way he played today, all around was great. Dalen’s a high character guy, and I’m the least bit surprised that he stepped up made those two huge threes down the stretch of the game.”
On Justin Kier stepping in for Kerr Kriisa: “You guys know what Justin means to the program and means to me, he was awesome. I literally had zero reservations. Once Kerr’s injury, we kind of knew what it was gonna be, I felt like we had a great chance to win the game. Colorado exposed us a little bit a few weeks ago. And like I was telling you guys, sometimes I don’t mind losing because it gives you a chance to kind of recalibrate and fix things. And we fixed things. That’s what this program is about. Growing, responding and being high character. Justin, he fits that to a tee, and I’m just gonna see if I can petition the NCAA for a seventh year of eligibility.”
On if Kier starting impacted the gameplan: “Most of it was based off last game, but I thought today, we get Justin out there, and Justin’s a really good defender. He’s really grown in his one for ones, as him and I like to call them, so he did a great job there. And then I just also thought offensively, with the way they were gonna guard us, I thought Justin’s penetration could help us. Kerr is obviously a good shooter, and stuff like that, and Justin’s a little bit more of a downhill guard, and I just thought he would be able to get down in the paint, make some plays, and sometimes it just works out.”
On Colorado’s Jabari Walker: “I’ll tell you what, if you want to get hot, play against Arizona. But Jabari is a really good player. He didn’t shoot the ball well early in the year and he’s shooting it much better late. We kind of picked our poison a little bit. We kind of got a little more sticky to him and closed out a little bit harder in the second half. But the other thing that disrupted it was fouls, and that’s a sneaky thing that’s undervalued in this game is pinning fouls on the other team’s best players. We wanted to attack those guys inside out, we wanted to attack them off the dribble, and pin fouls on them. The second half was neck and neck and then we got both those bigs on the bench and we were able to kind of extend a little lead and ride it out.”
On Azuolas Tubelis: “Zu is a special player. What I love about him is he can take it to another level when needed. Over the course of his career, there has been not been too many big games where he hasn’t shown up and been one of, if not the best player on the court. I count on that. I just kind of every once in a while I’ll him the look like I did today, like hey,we need the great Zu today. And he just gives me the nod and then acknowledges it and then he goes out and does it. I’m so excited about the progression he’s made this year, and I think we’re getting an amazing foundation built. And next year, I think, we’ll see what happens, but I think there’s amazing potential for him to take even a bigger jump.
“And when he shoots his left-hand jump hook like that it makes his coach really happy.”
On Oumar Ballo: “Oumar has been outstanding. We say it over and over again, we count on that. When they had a ton of foul issues, they had to get some guys on the bench you think, well should we keep the big guy out there when they’re playing small ball and we decided to roll with it, because I wanted to see how they were gonna adapt to him. When he caught that ball over the top and dunked it, I think he sent a message like, we’re big and strong. He was pinning a ton of fouls on them.”
On Kriisa’s status: “He’s got a sprained ankle. We got a great training staff. I don’t think the severity of it is ... I think him playing next week is a real, a real possibility. We’re just gonna take it day by day. All the major stuff checked out okay, and now it’s just a matter of attacking it.”
On what he thought when Dalen Terry shot a late 3-pointer to help seal the win: “He’s gonna make it. Love that kid. He’s got confidence, he’s got swag. He’s a really, really good player and his best days are ahead of him. I’m glad he got that moment because he’s put in a ton of time behind the scenes and he’s believed in himself, and and he’s deserving of it. I know he missed one in the corner against a zone, at the end of a shot clock, I thought that one was in, too. I got a lot of belief in him.”
On living with a team making 16 3-pointers: “If they shoot well from three, and you choke down the lane, and you limit free throws, it’s a formula. I mean, they’re gonna score. You don’t pitch shutouts in basketball. So, sometimes you got to make decisions. And tomorrow, depending on who we play, we might come out with a different plan. Today, we felt like this was the best plan for us based on yplaying these guys recently and then watching them play. And luckily it worked out. I tell you what, it took some courage to stick with it, because when they make four threes again before the first media timeout (of the second half), you’re like, oh, here we go again. You just got to hang with it sometimes and believe in the plan, and then the players, they tightened it up and executed it a little bit better, and it ended up working.”
Kier on what Kriisa told him: “We talk all the time, so he was just like, you got this. That’s all he was telling, you got this. I don’t need to tell you anything, I know you’re gonna go out there and play great. But I started asking him questions. At halftime just, what do you see out there? You see anything that I missed? And he was like, man, just go out there and hoop. You’re good. You’re doing good. They’re shooting the ball really well right now. He was letting me know that I was ready for, and I knew I was ready, but I just wanted to hear some things from him.”
On his mindset coming in: “I knew I had to come out and do what I do for us to win. I had to fill that spot with Kerr. These guys give me the most confidence in the world, so when I get confidence from them, that’s all I need. I knew I had to come out here and just do what I need to do, not do anything extra, and make sure we come out and win, so that’s what we did.”
On facing tough guards from either UCLA or USC in the final: “We’re gonna do what we do, what we’ve been doing all year, we’re gonna look at the scout (report) and gameplan. Like (Lloyd) said, our coaching staff does a great job. So we’re gonna, go back, get rest and look at the scouts and be ready for whoever.”
On getting this chance at his third school: “I’m extremely grateful. They were the loudest in the gym. And I think we’ve had the most fans. They have my heart and they always will. Say it again, it’s the best decision I’ve made. And I’m just excited to continue this run.”
Tubelis on his dominant first half: “We have some plays where I have a chance to go by myself. I have other options, but they rather me that I was able to drive the ball, so I just drove the ball and then made the decisions.”