No. 5 Arizona, fresh off a thrilling win over No. 6 Tennessee, will wrap up non-conference play this week with two games, starting with Montana State on Tuesday night in Tucson, Ariz.
The Wildcats (10-1) defeated the Vols 75-70 on Saturday night, holding on after their 10-point, second-half lead was twice cut to one point.
In a game matching Arizona’s elite offense against the Vols’ top-rated defense, the Wildcats continued to do what has worked all season: Let Azuolas Tubelis and Oumar Ballo lead the way from the post.
They combined for 37 points and 17 rebounds, shot 13 of 21 from the field, and made 11 of 13 free-throw attempts against the Vols.
“Oumar and Zu, I mean, we’ve got to get that out of them every night, no matter how they guard us,” said Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd. “And they’re a force in there. You just don’t see that type of one-two punch in there. Those two are dominant guys.”
Tubelis and Ballo dominated against Tennessee’s elite size, experience and physicality, which can’t be replicated by Montana State (7-5) of the Big Sky. The Bobcats have played one power-conference team this season, losing 81-51 at Oregon on Nov. 15, but have won four consecutive games.
They set a school scoring record Saturday in a 144-59 victory against visiting lower-division Northwest Indian College.
“The one thing I wanted from us tonight was I wanted us to not be sloppy,” said coach Danny Sprinkle.
“We’ve gotten better at taking care of the basketball, which has probably cost us three wins this year. And we have to continue to clean that up. You’re not going to win in conference turning the ball over the way we were earlier in the year. And I think our defense has taken a step up.”
That defense will be challenged by Tubelis (20.1 points, 8.6 rebounds per game) and Ballo (18.1, 9.3), who are complemented by three other double-digit scorers — Courtney Ramey (11.8), Kerr Kriisa (11.3) and Pelle Larsson (10.8).
Arizona’s bench didn’t score against the Vols as the rotation shortened in a tight game, and Lloyd didn’t appear to be concerned about the lack of offensive production from the reserves in one game.
“It’s just one of those days,” he said. “I don’t have a set formula, where I’m like, ‘I need this many points from my bench’ or this or that. I just want to score more than the other team.”
The Bobcats are led by guard RaeQuan Battle, a former top 100 recruit who spent two years at Washington. He is averaging 17.3 points per game and shooting 36.9 percent (24 of 65) from 3-point range. Jubrile Belo, one of the big men who will need to be stout defensively in the post against Arizona, is averaging 12.2 points per game.
Arizona shoots 53.7 percent to lead the nation through Saturday’s games. The Wildcats dropped from first to third nationally in scoring (90.5) following the win over Tennessee.
Arizona will conclude its non-conference schedule at home on Thursday night against Morgan State.
–Field Level Media