Big men lead No. 9 Arizona into battle with Texas A&M-Corpus Christi

No. 9 Arizona will be between heavyweight fights when it plays host to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Tuesday night in Tucson, Ariz.

The Wildcats (8-1) have arguably the top frontcourt in the nation, and it was that combination of Azuolas Tubelis and Oumar Ballo that led the team to an 89-75 victory over then-No. 14 Indiana on Saturday in Las Vegas. Tubelis had a team-high 21 points with seven rebounds, while the burly Ballo ruled the paint with 15 points and 12 boards.

“Oumar’s a really good player. I mean, he’s a force,” Arizona head coach Tommy Lloyd said. “He’s our George Foreman. I mean, those body blows. And then he can throw some knockout punches, too. He’s hard to play against.”

Ballo is blossoming in his first season as a starter and second season at Arizona, transferring from Gonzaga when Lloyd left the program to take over the Wildcats before last season. Ballo redshirted in his first year at Gonzaga, averaged 2.5 points a season later and backed up current Toronto Raptor Christian Koloko at Arizona last season.

“It’s really cool for me, especially, who has seen it on the other side, to see him come through it,” Lloyd said. “It makes you proud as a coach. Oumar gets all the credit, because to hang with it like he did and to be in the position he’s in, it’s really inspiring for me as a coach, and hopefully it inspires other players who are struggling.”

Arizona, which also has victories over San Diego State and Creighton, will be trying to avoid looking ahead to Saturday’s home game against No. 6 Tennessee. A&M-Corpus Christi (5-4) is coming off a 100-63 victory over Division III Texas Lutheran on Wednesday. The Islanders, from the Southland Conference, have played one power conference team, losing 63-44 in their season-opener at Mississippi State.

“I’m a little disappointed in our record,” head coach Steve Lutz said. “I’m a little disappointed where we are defensively, especially given the amount of experience we have on this team and amount of returners we have.

“We have a good group of guys who work pretty hard and are trying to do what I’m asking them to do. We just have to have more defensive discipline with what we are doing on every possession.”

Isaac Mushila averages a double-double (15.9 points, 11.2 rebounds) to lead the Islanders, who don’t have anybody taller than 6-foot-8 in their regular rotation. That could be problematic against the 6-foot-11 Tubelis and 7-foot Ballo.

Tubelis is averaging 20.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. Ballo is at 18.7 and 9.6, respectively, while shooting 75.9 percent from the field. His only issue right now? He’s shooting 52.2 percent from the free-throw line (36 of 69).

While the Wildcats lean on their big men, three others have scoring averages in double figures, including point guard Kerr Kriisa (12.9 points per game). He leads a fast-paced attack that is averaging 91.2 points per game.

“I think we’re playing our best basketball when everybody’s having fun,” Kriisa said. “When you see our players, like when we have a little huddle and everybody’s smiling and stuff … that’s a huge part of our … program.”

–Field Level Media