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Azuolas Tubelis strengthening case for Pac-12 Player of the Year, national awards with recent play

arizona-wildcats-mens-basketball-azuolas-tubelis-pac12-awards-wooden-naismith-karl-malone-2023 James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The midseason watch list for the Karl Malone Award, given to college basketball’s top power forward, is set to be released sometime next week. Azuolas Tubelis is almost certain to be among those 10, just as he was on the midseason list for the Wooden and Oscar Robertson awards, and should also make the cut for the Naismith Award when that list is pared down next month.

As for Pac-12 Player of the Year? If he keeps up the run he’s on in league action, it’s going to be hard not to make Tubelis the second straight Wildcat to win that honor after Bennedict Mathurin did a season ago.

Tubelis had 18 points and 12 rebounds in Thursday’s 63-58 revenge win at Washington State, his third straight double-double and sixth in seven games. He has nine double-doubles in 2022-23, compared to eight in his first two seasons combined.

You can argue there’s not been a more consistent big man in college basketball all season, and the numbers show it. Tubelis has scored at least 12 points and pulled down six or more rebounds in all 21 games, more than any other Division I player, even Purdue’s Zach Edey (19 of 20 games played) or Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe (13 of 18).

Also up on that list is UA teammate Oumar Ballo, who has gone for at least 12 and 6 in 17 of 21 games. But the combination of enhanced defensive approaches—and a wicked stomach bug—have sapped some of Ballo’s production, including Thursday when he had one point and was 0 for 3 from the field.

Tubelis’ hasn’t wavered, though. Not like it did down the stretch last season when he didn’t score in double figures in six of Arizona’s last nine games, capped by a 2-of-7 performance against TCU and then an abysmal 0 for 8 showing in the Sweet 16 loss to Houston.

The rebounding numbers are where Tubelis has shown the biggest growth. His 201 total boards this season are 23 shy of what he had all of last year, in 15 more games, and his 61 offensive rebounds are only 10 behind his 2022-23 tally.

“My coaches are pushing me with the rebounding because I’m capable to get from 10 to 15 rebounds every game,” Tubelis said earlier this week. “It’s not about the scoring, like I can score six points and I’ll be fine. You can be selfish on rebounding.”

Tubelis is one of seven players in UA history with more than 1,200 points (he’s up to 31st on the career scoring list, with 1,231) as well as 600 rebounds and 150 assists.

His rebounding will be key against a Washington team whose zone defense gave Arizona fits three weeks ago. Tubelis had 18 points and 10 rebounds in that 70-67 comeback victory, also adding in four assists, four blocks and three steals. That 18-10-4-4-3 line has only been accomplished four times in Division I this season.