LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) – Oumar Ballo dominated inside with 30 points and 13 rebounds #14 Arizonawho defeated No. 10 Creighton 81-79 on Wednesday to win the Maui Invitational for a third time.
The combination of the unstoppable 7-foot, 260-pound Ballo and his speedy, talented supporting cast was just enough for the Wildcats (6-0) to remain undefeated. Kerr Kriisa added 13 points and nine assists, Azuolas Tubelis had 12 points and Courtney Ramey had 10. Arizona had its last points with 2:21 but was able to hold.
“I’m super proud of these guys,” said Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd. “These tournaments are tough. To play three games in three days against three really good teams with very different styles and to come out on top like we did says a lot about this group.”
Ryan Nembhard scored 20 points for Creighton (6-1), who was attempting to beat a ranked opponent for the third straight day. Ryan Kalkbrenner added 16 points, Trey Alexander had 15, and Baylor Scheierman had 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Arizona appeared to be retiring late, but the Bluejays stayed around.
Scheierman made a layup with 2:41 left to pull Creighton to 79-72, but Kriisa made a nice pass to Ballo for a dunk and an 81-72 lead with 2:21 left. He was fouled but missed the free throw.
Nembhard made a layup and Scheierman a 3-pointer to put Creighton at 81-77. Kalkbrenner made one of two free throws to reduce the deficit to three. Ramey missed a 3-point attempt by 18 seconds.
Creighton called timeout with 7.4 seconds left to set up one last game. Kalkbrenner didn’t have an open 3 and passed to Nembhard who was fouled by Ramey with 2 seconds left. He made the first shot and purposely missed the second, with Arizona rebounding to seal the win, though Creighton finished on a 12-2 run.
“I was just looking at the score and the time and our time-outs. And I thought we had enough distance to get through it somehow,” Lloyd said.
“But you’re just hoping for a miss. You hate to say that, you gotta make them miss But one of those shots ricochets off, you know, and we rebound, you know, the game could have been over a little sooner. But they didn’t. They went inside.
“I think we had maybe one or two bad decisions, but we will learn from that. We practice a lot of situations, so a lot of situations came up and I felt comfortable not taking a break,” he added.
Ballo was strong from the start, scoring 16 points and nine rebounds in the first half to help the Wildcats take a 39-30 lead.
“We showed some courage to get back into it,” said Creighton coach Greg McDermott. “It felt like in the second half, every time we made it to three or four, they would pull it back to nine or ten and we couldn’t quite crack the seal to get them where they really were, so to speak , really nervous.
“And then we did some stuff on the stretch pretty well to give ourselves a chance, you know, on the free throw line there to get it down to two and then play a game where we thought we could have one good look at throwing a 3 there to tie it and obviously didn’t work.”
Creighton: The Bluejays reached the title game by defeating No. 21 Texas Tech in the opening round and stopping No. 9 Arkansas in the semifinals.
Arizona: The Wildcats also won the Maui Invitational in 2000 and 2014. Lloyd was part of two Maui titles as a Gonzaga assistant in 2009 and 2018.
Creighton plays at No. 1 as part of the Big 12-Big East Battle on December 1st. 4 Texas.
Arizona opens Dec. 1 Pac-12 game in Utah.
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