NCCA : Oumar Ballo’s improving play means Arizona Wildcats can go really big on occasion

Temps de lecture : 3 mn đź•—

Having answered most of their preseason questions with an 11-0 start, the went an unconventional route when another popped up again Saturday.

Down to just three post players in their 84-60 win over Cal Baptist, the No. 8-ranked Wildcats went big — really, really big — while resting forward Azuolas Tubelis for 3½ minutes in the second half.

That is, 7-foot centers Christian Koloko and Oumar Ballo played together.


“It’s really cool,” Koloko said. “Having us two in there together at the same time I think is a real disadvantage for the other team. You have two 7-footers in there at the same time, so we can take advantage of it.”

In some ways, they did. The Wildcats’ lead expanded by three points when the 7-footers played together, going from 61-43 with 11:03 left to 70-49 when Ballo left the game with 7:37 left to play. During that stretch, Ballo made a layup and Koloko had a dunk.

It was the opposite of the smaller lineup UA had been expected to use at times since its post depth became a question upon Jordan Brown’s transfer to Louisiana last May. The Wildcats brought in hybrid forward Kim Aiken from Eastern Washington over the summer to help out, but Aiken has missed the past four games for unexplained reasons.

Arizona’s Oumar Ballo gets off a hook shot in the paint against Cal Baptist in the second half of Saturday’s win. He’s shooting 62.2% from the field for the season while averaging 6.8 points and 5.0 rebounds. ©Kelly Presnell, Arizona Daily Star

That’s left UA coach Tommy Lloyd to mostly use one of his 7-footers along with four perimeter players whenever Tubelis takes a rest … until Saturday.


“I’ not uncomfortable doing it,” Lloyd said. “I still think (it’s valuable) having Azuolas out there, with him being a little more mobile, able to play inside and outside a little bit. I’m a little more comfortable with that. But that super lineup or the giant lineup — or whatever you want to call it — we’ll see how that develops.”

Lloyd said he’s talked about using the twin towers on occasion, and has a defensive plan that works for such a lineup. Their individual defensive skills, of course, are fairly obvious — Ballo and Koloko blocked a combined seven shots in the first half of Saturday’s game while substituting for each other.

Offensively, Lloyd said, it’s a different story.

“I’ve got to probably do a better job developing that lineup offensively,” Lloyd said. As luck would have it — and the other team always has a pretty good coach, too — the moment we went with two bigs, they went zone and we really honestly haven’t spent one second on zone offense with two bigs on the floor. But with Oumar and C-Lo on the floor together, I like it.”

Arizona’s Christian Koloko leaves the entire Cal Baptist defense flatfooted as he jams home a dunk in the 84-60 win at McKale Center on Saturday. © Kelly Presnell, Arizona Daily Star

Part of Lloyd’s comfort level stems from the improvement and consistency Ballo has begun showing after playing in just 24 of Gonzaga’s 32 games last season. Ballo helped bail the Wildcats out of early struggles at Oregon State on Dec. 5, then played key reserve roles during wins over Illinois and Wyoming.

He’s shooting 62.2% from the field for the season, taking only two-pointers, while averaging 6.8 points and 5.0 rebounds.

“There’s no doubt if Oumar starts playing like that, it opens up a lot of doors,” Lloyd said. “I told Oumar, and it’s not always easy for a guy to hear, that ‘If you want more, you have to do more. You need to be working really hard’ and he has been working hard. You guys can see how his body’s changing. His conditioning is getting better.

“But just because you want something more doesn’t mean it’s going to happen every day. And when it doesn’t happen, you’ve got to handle it with maturity and be a professional and I thought he did that.”

Ballo hasn’t been available for comment lately but he said last month that he was happy to be a part of the Wildcats’ offense after following Lloyd from Gonzaga.

“I feel more free to be myself, to play for good teammates who really share the ball,” Ballo said. “It’s great to be here.”

The feeling appears to be mutual, especially with that other 7-footer. After Ballo played just nine minutes against Northern Colorado on Wednesday, Koloko said it was good to see him bounce back Saturday against the Lancers.

“It says a lot. He’s a winner,” Koloko said. “He had energy today. He did a really good job when he took my spot. That’s what we want him to do, and I think he’s gonna continue to do it.”

Source : Tucson.com

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