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Scoring milestones only part of impact Oumar Ballo, Pelle Larsson have had at Arizona

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When Tommy Lloyd was hired by Arizona for his first head coaching job, the first player he added to the roster was Oumar Ballo. The second was Pelle Larsson.

Three years later, both got curtain calls during the Wildcats’ 92-73 win over Utah after reaching the 1,000-point mark for their college basketball careers. Larsson got his on an alley-oop from Caleb Love with 12:28 left, while Ballo dunked his milestone home with 4:01 remaining.

“I honestly didn’t know,” said Ballo, who was 8 of 12 from the field and added nine rebounds. “When I was just four points away, that’s when Pelle got his, they told me and I was like ‘oh wow.’”

Larsson was more privy, getting a heads up that he was seven shy going into the night.

“My mom texted me right after last game, so she knew right where I was,” said Larsson, who was 5 of 9 for 13 points. “When you hoop you kind of really don’t pay attention to this kind of stuff, they just happen.”

As graphics were shown on the video board during second-half timeouts, and the McKale Center crowd cheered, both Larsson and Ballo got hugs aplenty from teammates and coaches. Lloyd was among the well wishers, but he says he would have been no matter how many points they had in their career after each was part of one of the UA’s most efficient performances of the season.

“I’m not a big milestone guy with basketball, I just don’t think you play for those things,” said Lloyd, who also pointed out he’s not a big birthday guy after opening his postgame presser by mentioning he forgot to get freshman Conrad Martinez into the game on his birthday. “I’m really proud of those guys for getting it, but listen: whether they have 999 points or 1,001 they are really good players and they’re great guys.”

Ballo essentially followed Lloyd from Gonzaga, where the 7-footer redshirted in 2019-20 and then averaged 6.3 minutes over 24 games. He scored 60 points with the Bulldogs, three fewer than he’s had the last five games with Arizona.

“I don’t think anybody three years ago would have said Oumar Ballo would score 1,000 points, because at Gonzaga he didn’t score many,” Lloyd said. “940 points in Arizona. He’s gonna (get to 1,000) in three years, that’s pretty special.”

Larsson, who started 18 of 25 games for Utah in 2020-21 before leaving when Larry Krystkowiak was fired, picked Arizona over Kansas and Creighton. He went on to win Pac-12 Sixth Man of the Year his first season with the Wildcats, then began his second year as a starter before getting moved back to a reserve role down the stretch.

After testing the NBA Draft waters, Larsson opted to return for a third year with the Wildcats and is putting up career highs in scoring (12.5 per game), rebounding (4.4), assists (3.4), field goal shooting (55.8 percent) and 3-point shooting (57.1).

“Pelle took a chance on me, he did,” Lloyd said. “I thought about it a couple days ago and you almost get emotional. I hadn’t won a game, hadn’t coached a game, and he was getting recruited by Kansas. He put faith in us and he came here and we’re lucky. Arizona is lucky and I’m lucky that he did.”

Ballo and Larsson have been a part of 73 wins in 85 games.

A third Wildcat could get to 1,000 for his career later this season, as Keshad Johnson is at 842 after his second 20-point game with Arizona. He had none in three years at San Diego State, where his career high of 16 has been topped three times this season.

“Key was a guy who came here and we were told great kid, plays hard, winner, ultimate team guy, which he is all those things, but maybe a little bit limited offensively,” Lloyd said. “And for him to score 20 points, quietly, is pretty special. To score 20 in a meaningful Pac-12 game, to me that shows how far he’s come.”