LAHAINA, Hawaii – Oumar Ballo dominated inside with 30 points and 13 rebounds for No. 14 Arizona, which held off No. 10 Creighton 81-79 on Wednesday to win the Maui Invitational for the 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 scored 10. Arizona scored its final points with 2:21 to play but managed to hold on.
“I’m super proud of these guys,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said. “These tournaments are hard. To play three games in three days against three really good teams with very distinct styles and to come out of it on top the way we did, it says a lot about this group.”
Ryan Nembhard scored 20 points for Creighton (6-1), which was trying to beat a ranked opponent for the third straight day. Ryan Kalkbrenner added 16 points, Trey Alexander scored 15 and Baylor Scheierman had 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Arizona appeared to be pulling away late, but the Bluejays kept hanging around.
Scheierman made a layup with 2:41 left to pull Creighton within 79-72 but Kriisa made a beautiful 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 get Creighton within 81-77. Kalkbrenner made one of two free throws to cut the deficit to three. Ramey missed a 3-point attempt with 18 seconds left.
Creighton called timeout with 7.4 seconds left to set up a final play. 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 intentionally missed the second, with Arizona rebounding to seal the win despite Creighton closing with a 12-2 run.
“I just kept looking at the score and the time and our timeouts. And I thought we had enough separation to kind of ride it out,” Lloyd said.
“But you’re just hoping for a miss. You hate to say that, you need to make `em miss. But one of those shots bounces off, you know, and we rebound it, you know, the game could have been over a little bit earlier. But they didn’t. They went in.
“I think we had one or two maybe poor decisions, but we’ll learn from that. We practice situations a lot. So a lot of the situations came up there and I felt comfortable not calling a timeout,” he added.
Ballo was strong from the start, tallying 16 points and nine rebounds in the first half to help the Wildcats to a 39-30 lead.
“We showed some grit in getting ourselves back in that,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “It felt like in the second half, every time we would get it to three or four, they’d stretch it back to nine or 10 and we just couldn’t quite crack the seal, so to speak, to get ’em where they were really, really nervous.
“And then we executed some stuff down the stretch pretty well to give ourselves a chance, you know, on the free-throw line there to cut it to two, and then ran a play where we thought we could get a good look at a 3 there to tie it, and obviously didn’t work.”
Creighton: The Bluejays reached the title game by beating 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. 4 Texas on Dec. 1 as part of the Big 12-Big East Battle.
Arizona opens Pac-12 play at Utah on Dec. 1.