TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona’s free-flowing offense was on point, putting up another night of big numbers. The defense had some shaky moments, allowing Northern Colorado to keep it close well into the second half.
Once the Wildcats put their defensive foot down, they left the Bears stuck in the desert sand.
Christian Koloko had 19 points and blocked four shots, Kerr Kriisa also scored 19 points and No. 8 Arizona used a big late run to beat Northern Colorado 101-76 on Wednesday night.
“We obviously didn’t execute well defensively,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said. “Our guys did a good job of not panicking, hanging in there and asserting their will and wearing them out over the course of the game.”
The Wildcats (10-0) had another strong offensive performance, yet had a hard time shaking the hot-shooting Bears. Northern Colorado kept it close through the midpoint of the second half before Arizona clamped down.
Their defense triggering offense, the Wildcats went on a 21-2 run to turn a close game into a rout and continue their best start since opening 12-0 in 2014-15. Arizona shot 53% and had 32 more points in the paint.
“When you have a target on your back, everybody wants to beat you,” said Arizona’s Justin Kier, who had 13 points. “We’ve got to take this game as an advantage and know we’ve got to come out and play every single night, and know everyone’s looking to beat us.”
Northern Colorado (6-6) was a 24 1/2-point underdog, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, yet kept the upset bid intact well into the second half with good shooting.
Daylen Kountz kept the Bears close in the first half, scoring 23 of his 33 points. Dru Kuxhausen did the same in the second, scoring all of his 15 points.
Arizona eventually wore Northern Colorado down, stretching the lead to 27 points.
“They’re a really good team and that’s one of those, over a course of 40 (minutes), it wears on you,” Northern Colorado coach Steve Smiley said.
The Wildcats have been unstoppable so far in Lloyd’s first season, entering the game as one of seven undefeated teams in college basketball.
Arizona moved up to No. 1 in the NCAA’s NET rankings after rallying from a 13-points deficit for 83-79 road win against Illinois last weekend. The Wildcats lead the nation in scoring, scoring margin, assists and rebounds.
That figured to be too much for a Northern Colorado team that’s among the nation’s worst in scoring and field goal defense.
Not quite, thanks to Kountz and Kuxhausen.
Kountz played three seasons for Colorado, so he wasn’t intimidated in one of college basketball’s toughest road venues. The senior guard confidently fired up shots from all over, scoring 15 points midway through the first half to give the Bears a three-point lead.
“He’s a really good player and got it going,” Lloyd said. “We went under a screen or two early on him and he banged in a 3, and said ‘Hey, this might be one of my last times to play a Pac-12 team’ and let it rip tonight.”
Arizona appeared ready to run away with it after a 10-1 burst, yet couldn’t shake Northern Colorado.
Kuntz dunked over two players for a three-point play and shot 9 of 11 before halftime. The Bears shot 17 of 30 in the first half.
Their one problem: stopping Arizona. The Wildcats shot 19 of 33 and closed the half with an 8-0 run to lead 52-42.
Kuxhausen found the range after going 0 for 4 in the first half, hitting four 3-pointers in the opening eight minutes of the second to pull Northern Colorado within 71-67.
The Wildcats didn’t let them get any closer.
“That one stretch, they started cooking and that’s where it separated,” Smiley said.
Northern Colorado should gain a lot of confidence playing Arizona close well into the second half. The Bears shot well in a tough road venue and made the Wildcats work for it.
Arizona had some shaky defensive moments early, but flexed its offensive prowess to remain undefeated.
Azoulas Tubelis was Arizona’s go-to player in the first half and he delivered with 11 points and six assists. The Lithuanian big man flirted with a triple-double, finishing with 16 points, eight rebounds, eights assists, three steals and two blocked shots.
“I’m just trying make my teammates better, try to find the open looks,” Tubelis said.
Northern Colorado plays at Washington State on Saturday.
Arizona hosts Cal Baptist Saturday.
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