LAS VEGAS—Justin Kier needed some reassurance.
Arizona’s veteran guard had just led the Wildcats through 20 minutes of frolicking basketball and wanted to know what, if anything, he could improve on in the second half.
Kier had 165 career games to lean on, but even for a sixth-year player, this was a new experience: starting point guard in a conference tournament showdown.
Naturally, Kier went right to the source to gain some insights. The man in the headband, however, didn’t have much more he could share.
“What do you see out there? You see anything that I missed?”
“Man, just go out there and hoop. You’re good. You’re doing good.”
Kier took in Kerr Kriisa’s words and ran with them. As Arizona’s fill-in floor general, Kier gave the team an even-keeled performance, culminating in an 82-72 win over Colorado that moves the Wildcats to the Pac-12 championship game.
“He was letting me know that I was ready for it,” Kier said. “I knew I was ready, but I just wanted to hear some things from him.”
Kier did his best Friday to keep Arizona’s offense humming as it has all year.
After a rocky opening 4-and-a-half minutes where Arizona committed four turnovers and allowed Colorado to jump to a quick 16-8 lead, things settled down under Kier at the point.
Arizona responded with a 16-5 run, capped off by a Kier 3-pointer that gave Arizona the lead midway through the first half.
The Wildcats went on to shoot 60.7 percent in the half, a sign that this team can score just fine without Kriisa on the court.
Colorado’s hot 3-point shooting kept the Buffs right in it.
Twice in the second half Colorado cut the lead to a single point when Kier answered with a pair of points on the other end to keep Arizona’s lead intact.
Arizona’s performance on offense Friday was far from flawless – the Wildcats committed 18 turnovers and ran into a few scoring droughts in the second half – but Kier’s hand kept Arizona playing winning basketball.
“I knew I had to come out here, do what I need to do, not do anything extra and make sure we come out do what we need to do to win,” Kier said.
Though Kier’s elevation to starting point guard came in an unlikely and unfortunate fashion, it wasn’t unexpected.
Lloyd had recruited Kier to Arizona last offseason as a combo guard with the expectation he would earn ball handling duties at least part of the time.
As the Wildcats’ season went on and Kriisa solidified his standing as Arizona’s point guard, Kier willingly accepted playing off the ball as he had done four seasons at George Mason and one at Georgia.
Even if Kier didn’t take on a point guard role in the regular, he was learning in practice to read the game as if he was one.
That schooling came through Friday.
“This coaching staff does a great job making point guards, educating them on what you can do,” Kier said. “Since I’ve met Coach (Tommy Lloyd), he’s taught me how to read defenses and hit the role guys and stay on two feet. He’s helped me so much for my game. So, yes, I think that was a big part of (coming to Arizona). And we’ll continue to go.”