No. 4 Arizona outruns Alabama in boisterous environment at Footprint Center

Dec 21, 2023, 1:13 AM

Arizona guard Kylan Boswell...

Arizona guard Kylan Boswell (Jeremy Schnell/Arizona Sports)

(Jeremy Schnell/Arizona Sports)

PHOENIX — Alabama sprinted out ahead, but No. 4 Arizona outran the Crimson Tide in an 87-74 victory in a frantic nightcap to the Jerry Colangelo Hall of Fame Series at Footprint Center on Wednesday.

The Wildcats (9-1) fell behind 9-0 without any points for nearly four minutes but battled back to take a 41-40 halftime lead. The second half started similarly with Alabama (6-5) taking a 50-43 lead, but the Wildcats dominated the final 10 minutes to close out the Crimson Tide comfortably in front of a packed home-away-from-home crowd.

Neither team shot particularly well, with Alabama going 8-for-40 from deep. But Arizona’s ability to gets hands on the ball and push sped up Alabama to force enough turnovers and fouls to run away with it.

A critical moment came with the game tied 54-54. Arizona had scored on consecutive possessions, and Alabama was hit with a 24-second violation as the crowd noise swirled.

On Alabama’s next possession, Arizona wing Pelle Larsson pressured the ball in the backcourt, and he hit the deck for a loose ball. After passing it out, he got up and followed a Caleb Love miss with a tip-in to take the lead. Alabama turned the ball over on its next two possessions, and Arizona built a 10-point advantage by the time the Crimson Tide scored another point (14-0 run).

“Plays like that are gonna come every game and you just got to be the most aggressive guy and dive for the ball first,” Larsson said. “I think we did that multiple times. I think that’s why we won. We just wanted it a little bit more on those plays.”

The game’s pace seemed to get away from Alabama, which turned the ball over 11 times in the second half and committed 17 fouls, with big men Nick Pringle and Mohamed Wague fouling out. Larsson had three steals in the second half, while point guard Kylan Boswell had five for the game.

Arizona had 15 points off turnovers in the second half alone, and even on missed shots the Wildcats were off the races to put pressure on Alabama’s transition defense.

“We definitely got our transition game going in that second half,” Arizona head coach Tommy Lloyd said postgame. “We knew Alabama tries to rebound five guys, which makes it incredibly challenging. They literally to start each half just pounded us on the glass. … our guys stepped up and responded. If they’re going to the glass with five guys, and we’re getting rebounds, and they’re shooting 40 3s so there’s gonna be long rebounds, hopefully it’ll lead to some transition. Luckily, we got the game going a little bit.”

Arizona won the rebounding battle, too, 48-38.

Despite the inconsistencies throughout, Lloyd was appreciative of his team’s ability to hang in there and bounce back. The Wildcats entered Wednesday coming off their first loss to now-No. 1 Purdue and fell behind with an opening few minutes that lacked control.

“I’m really proud of our response,” Lloyd said. “In any season, any game, it’s not just a constant uptick. There’s ups and downs, and you got to be able to weather those, you got to be able to ride them out, you got to be able to change the course. Our guys did an incredible job. The style we play, I mean, it can be a little crazy at times. But I think that’s good. I think that allows us in these games to stay comfortable over the course of the game, it’s hard to take us out of what we want to do.”

All five Arizona starters finished with double-digit points, led by Larsson and big man Oumar Ballo’s 16 each. Ballo also collected 12 rebounds — six offensive boards — and drew foul after foul to knock defenders out of the game.

Boswell scored 15 points, Love 13 points and seven boards and forward Keshad Johnson tacked on 11 points. KJ Lewis and Jaden Bradley were each plus-23s off the bench, and Lloyd had high praise for both performances.

Boswell had a couple dazzling moments late, including a beautiful move to the cup for a layup. Love drew a foul on a 3-point attempt with four minutes left that put the Wildcats up 10 points. The Crimson Tide hung around and cut the deficit to six, but Love scored nine points in the closing four minutes to seal it.

The atmosphere as the only Wildcats contest in the Valley until they face Arizona State mimicked that of a tournament game. Fans stood the entire way with “U of A” chants from the opening tip.

“This was a home game for us,” Ballo said. “Seeing them on their feet cheering for us, it means a lot for us and for the program, so nothing but grateful for them for coming out to support us.”

The Wildcats have one more matchup before Pac-12 games begin, and it’s another ranked opponent. They face No. 14 Florida Atlantic in Las Vegas at the Desert Classic on Saturday.

Arizona opens conference play on Dec. 29 at California.

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