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Key to Kerr Kriisa overcoming shoulder injury: ‘Keep the pain inside’

Second year in a row he’s gotten hurt in Pac-12 quarterfinals against Stanford

arizona-wildcats-kerr-kriisa-stanford-cardinal-shoulder-injury-ankle-pac12-tournament-2023 Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

LAS VEGAS—“Oh ei, mitte jälle.”

That’s Estonian for “oh no, not again,” which more or less was went through Kerr Kriisa’s head as he was writhing in pain on the same court—and against the same opponent—where he suffered a high ankle sprain almost one year ago to the day.

“When it happened and when I felt right away it was not good, I was like, holy sh*t, how is this going down again?,” Kriisa said after Arizona’s 95-84 win over Stanford in the Pac-12 quarterfinals. “I guess this tournament has bad aura for me.”

Kriisa left the court with 3:44 remaining in the first half after suffering what UA coach Tommy Lloyd called a “contusion-type injury” to his right shoulder after a collision with a Stanford player.

Kriisa ended up starting the second half, playing 15 minutes after the break, but did not attempt a shot from the field.

He did make 1 of 2 free throws with 1:43 to go, left-handed, during Arizona’s game-icing 12-2 run, but still noticeably winced with each attempt. That’s how it looked when he was warming up after halftime, too.

“During the warmup I definitely didn’t feel like I can shoot the ball, but then when coaches came on (the court) I had to say no, I’m good to go, because I really want to play,” Kriisa said. “I told Tommy, yeah, I can shoot.”

With the shoulder covered in KT tape, Kriisa had two of his four assists, plus a rebound, and one turnover, turning into the pass-only point guard some UA fans—not the ones that think he turns it over too much—have longed for him to be. But even that hurt.

“Every movement was kind of (bad), you know, but at this point, you’re trying to win the game,” he said. “It’s crunch time, so you don’t really make it about yourself. You just try and keep the pain inside you and just keep encouraging your teammates to try and go on runs and stuff like that.”

Lloyd said he came out for the second half assuming that Kriisa wouldn’t play, and had already planned as such. Arizona has experience playing in the Pac-12 tourney without Kriisa, doing it for two of three games a year ago after he severely sprained his ankle late against Stanford in the quarterfinals.

“We’ve been here before,” Lloyd said. “And I feel like we would have found a way to pull it out one way or another.”

Lloyd said team trainer Justin Kokoskie told him Kriisa’s shoulder should be “better tomorrow than it was today,” adding that his point guard may have been laying it on a little thick at the end by attempting those free throws lefty.

“That was a little crazy, but he’s that kind of kid,” Lloyd said. “I couldn’t stop it as it was happening, but the kid’s got, he’s got courage, I guess is a way I can say it here right now.”

Kriisa ended up missing three games after the ankle injury last year, including the NCAA Tournament opener against Wright State, before playing against TCU and Houston. He was far from 100 percent when he came back, though.

A year ago he needed crutches to get from the bus into T-Mobile Arena the day after. This time around, he’s not expecting to be limited in Arizona’s semifinal game Friday night, which will tip off less than 24 hours after the injury.

“100 percent,” he said. “It’s not like I sprained an ankle.”