LAS VEGAS – The scoreboard flashing “84-80” should have the lasting image of Arizona’s opening game in the Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament.
Instead, it was of point guard Kerr Kriisa, slapping the floor and yelling out in pain after landing on the foot of teammate Christian Koloko.
Arizona survived a physical battle against Stanford Thursday at T-Mobile Arena but may have lost a key player in the process.
Kriisa left the game with 32 seconds to go with what looked to be an injury to his right leg. Unable to apply any pressure on it, he needed to be helped off the court.
“It’s a sprained ankle of some kind. I have no idea the severity of it or anything like that,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said. “But obviously it’s a quick turnaround, so it will be tough. We’ll just play it by ear. I’m not making any of those calls right now.”
The sophomore guard’s absence would mean a lot to the Wildcats. Arizona would not only have to replace his 10.1 points and 2.6 assists per game, but also the defensive ability and leadership that comes with being a starting point guard.
“Kerr means a lot to the team. He’s a starting point guard and he has a great impact on the team. And we play well when he’s here,” Arizona guard Benedict Mathurin said. “Whatever happens will happen but we hope he’s going to be back pretty soon because we need him.”
Despite the injury to Kriisa, the Wildcats were able to hold the Cardinal off after a back-and-forth game that saw 22 lead changes. The biggest lead for Arizona was just seven early in the first half.
Stanford received a huge performance from forward Spencer Jones, who set yet another career high this tournament, pouring in 28 on the Wildcats. This came after a 26-point performance against Arizona State just a day a before.
“He’s got a quick trigger and a high shooting pocket, and he’s tall,” Lloyd said. “You put those together, he can shoot right over the top of defenses, and not many guys can do that.”
Perhaps this is exactly what Arizona needed headed into the later days of March. The Wildcats are a young team with only one senior on their roster. They do not have a surplus of postseason experience.
Stanford gave the Wildcats a necessary test, as this is just the fifth time in its 29 wins this season that they did not win by double digits. An invaluable experience for Arizona as March typically brings out the best in teams, so this won’t be the last close game the Wildcats see, even after a season of cruising to victory.
“We have a young team, so I think we need those kinds of games to get ready for what’s next for us,” Koloko said. “And I think we did a pretty good job just executing the game plan. We need those kinds of games, and we are lucky we won today. Just gotta prepare for tomorrow.”
No matter what happens the rest of the tournament, the Wildcats are likely looking at a No. 1 seed and at worst a No. 2 seed for the NCAA Tournament. Despite this, the Wildcats aren’t comfortable, and their focus is to keep winning the next game in front of them.
With a first-year head coach leading a young team, winning the Pac-12 in a tournament setting would certainly boost Arizona’s confidence and belief.
The extent of Kriisa’s injury remains to be seen but the Wildcats have a quick turnaround with or without him, as they take on Colorado Friday.