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7-footer Oumar Ballo receives Maui Invitational MVP after being a dominant Force for the Arizona Wildcats

Maui Invitational - Creighton v Arizona
Maui Invitational: Creighton vs. Arizona

The No. 10 Arizona Wildcats left Hawaii with not just the Maui Invitational title but with a pair of signature wins that will only garner more national attention.

Oumar Ballo powered Arizona (6-0) to three wins in three days. The Wildcats took down No. 10 Creighton 81-79 on Wednesday and No. 17 San Diego State 87-70 on Tuesday after starting with a 101-93 win over Cincinnati.

For a program that has asked for some respect, with coach Tommy Lloyd believing his team should have started the year in the top 10, the Wildcats were dominant. They answered a lot of questions college basketball fans have about Arizona.

Not only did Arizona progress mentally, but the version of Ballo that many have been waiting for was finally on display. Ballo had 30 points and 13 rebounds as the Wildcats held off Creighton (6-1) in the championship game. The junior had 16 points and nine rebounds as Arizona took a 39-30 halftime lead.

Ballo wins marquee matchup with Kalkbrenner

Ballo's performance in the championship game was impressive, at first glance, because it came against one of the country's best centers, Creighton junior Ryan Kalkbrenner. More importantly, the progress he has shown from last year to this year has NBA scouts and analysts excited.

The 7-foot-1 Kalkbrenner, who had 16 points, has an amazing feel for the game and is on the way to becoming an above-average defender. He's averaging 1.6 blocks per game this season.

Against Kalkbrenner, Ballo used his size and motor to establish how impactful his role on the court would be.

Ballo's rim running and unique range make him an intriguing prospect. The Mali native has many wondering if he will finish the season in the same tier as North Carolina forward Armando Bacot or Kentucky forward Oscar Tshiebwe among college basketball's big men. Tshiebwe was the consensus national college player of the year last season.

Ballo was efficient in Maui, making 27 of 34 shots, scoring 63 points and pulling down 32 rebounds. He was patient and smart, creating 3-point play opportunities and extra possessions by tipping the ball to his teammates. Ballo has a new hook shot he debuted during the tournament that has garnered attention.

Ballo's offseason work on his body is noticeable.

"I mean, if you watch the game, he brings everything," Lloyd said. "He rebounds. He scores. ... Oumar's been putting a lot of work in during the summer, trying to get his body better and his fat down, which he has done. He has shown that he is driven and focused this season."

A focused Oumar Ballo should scare the entire Pac-12.

The Wildcats, who went 31-3 and reached the Sweet 16 after finishing the regular season ranked No. 2, will only go as far as Ballo will take them.

Arizona cannot let this make the season for them. The Wildcats need to look at the Maui title as a stepping stone as they prepare for the games that matter later in the season. They must show up every night because winning in Maui and beating two powerhouses put other programs on notice.

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Edited by Joseph Schiefelbein
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