The past two nights have seen Kerr Kriisa tweet a picture of his sprained right ankle, images that are hard to ignore for anyone scrolling through their timeline.
Depending on one’s level of internet medical degree, these updates have elicited a myriad of responses about Kriisa’s health and status ahead of Arizona’s NCAA Tournament opener on Friday.
Coach Tommy Lloyd said Sunday that Kriisa has “a real chance” of returning to action soon, whether that be in the first round, Sunday’s second round or beyond that. If Kriisa’s not able to play, or not be close to 100 percent, Lloyd can take comfort in knowing that Arizona’s last two games showed it has a backup plan.
A couple, actually.
Justin Kier started both games in place of Kriisa, going for 13 points, five rebounds and three assists against Colorado. Early foul trouble hampered him against UCLA, limiting him to 13 minutes, but in his place Dalen Terry slid over to the point and had seven assists—one off his career high—and a career-best 15 points.
“He stepped up big,” Bennedict Mathurin said of Terry. “He was able to make a lot of plays, and make the simple plays.”
Lloyd called Terry’s game “great at the right time,” but Kier would still start at the 1 if Kriisa can’t go. At the same time, discovering how well Terry can handle that role, as well as solid play on the perimeter from Pelle Larsson and even lightly used freshman Adama Bal, means there’s no need to stick with just one approach.
“It’s great to have options,” Lloyd said. “You go through the seasons and things happen. And as things happen to you, you might like it in the moment, whether it’s an injury or foul trouble or whatever it is, and it forces you to push another button. And sometime’s that button’s right.”
Larsson had three assists in both games that Kriisa missed, and Bal drained two critical 3-pointers during the first half against UCLA while also showing off a willingness to take a chance with a pass inside to Ballo at one point.
“Even the lob he threw to Oumar, it might not have been perfect, but to have the courage to do that as a young player …,” Lloyd said.
Terry is only 20 assists behind Kriisa on the season, and in his past five games he has 18 assists to just five turnovers. Not bad for a guy that Lloyd had to hold out of a practice during the summer because of too many mistakes with the ball.
“He traveled 13 times the day before,” Lloyd said. “I told him, if you travel I can’t play you, so you need to go over to a side basket. You need to go to footwork bootcamp, you need to learn how to not travel.”
Even Mathurin took on some point guard duties against UCLA, dishing out a career-high seven assists to go with 27 points. All of those perimeter players being so selfless is a joy for Arizona’s big men.
“It’s amazing, like every time you’re setting a screen or you’re rolling, you got expect the ball,” Christian Koloko said. “It’s not something that happens everywhere. We have the kind of guards that want to pass the ball. They’re going to tell you, be ready.”
Former UA coach Sean Miller, who is picking the Wildcats to win it all, said on The Field of 68 podcast that Kriisa’s absence may help the team in the long run.
“Oftentimes when that injured player returns, he almost returns an overall deeper and better team,” Miller said.