Earth has reclaimed the Arizona Wildcats. And, well, so has the college basketball scene. Re-entry wasn’t pretty at times, given the outcome of a 77-73 loss to host/19th-ranked Tennessee, but that’s not unexpected in a loss.
So, here Arizona is at 11-1 – and no longer one of the last five undefeated teams in the country – as it heads into Christmas break before returning to face UCLA next in the first game between the two Pac-12 Conference titans.
Until then, Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd will have time to review what he and his team can improve on before then. He did say you can’t play “tentative” and “you can’t do that on the road.”
Lloyd said he was “super proud of the guys” given the tough circumstances of being on the road and having to come back a few times from a double-digit deficit in the first half and some of the second.
It could have been a 20-point loss had it not been for his team’s defense, he added.
“We hung in there and gave ourselves a chance,” Lloyd said on his postgame radio show. “We just weren’t able to get over the top. I’m there will be lots of lessons to learn. And we’re going to learn them.”
Free throws were a slight issue. UA hit 12 of 18, including a couple of front ends.
Foul trouble was an issue
And missed opportunities were the issue … and, oh yes, Tennessee, a team that moved to 9-2 overall and played tough at the beginning of the game, in parts of the middle of the game and in the final moments to seal the win.
“Our guys gotta understand is that these seasons are long (and) you’re not going to go undefeated,” Lloyd said. “You need experiences like this. Now, we have to make this a ‘because moment’ … because we went through this, we were able to take the next step.”
On Wednesday, Arizona couldn’t overcome 12 first-half turnovers – although it did make a comeback in the second half – some missed opportunities at the free throw line, a technical foul called on Kerr Kriisa late and a non-rebound in the game’s final moments. Arizona was down 16-2 in the first minutes, shooting 28 percent while looking out of sorts.
Throw in UA’s big men Azuolas Tubelis and Christian Koloko were non-factors until the end, Arizona was vulnerable on the road in the team’s toughest test of the year.
Because, because, because, and, because.
“They were really pressing (the big men),” Lloyd said. “We weren’t able to get a bunch of post touches. Whether we weren’t finding them from the perimeter we couldn’t handle the ball pressure. That was a little tough and disappointing.
“At the end of the day there’s usually one recipe and that’s to toughen up.”
And his guys need to do a better job of finding them down low. Of course, there was the foul trouble that created problems. Tubelis was in trouble all game and didn’t get his first basket until the final minutes. Same for Koloko – and both eventually fouled out. Benn Mathurin kept UA in it with 28 points.
Arizona was down 34-21 at the half but rallied to tie it at 62 with five minutes left. Arizona played even with the 19th-ranked Vols the rest of the way … until the final minute when Arizona couldn’t prevent John Fulkerson from getting a rebound and a score.
“We toughed up,” Lloyd said of the second half and the reason Arizona made a game of it. “We evened it up on the boards (kind of) and Kerr got hot. You can’t play tentative against a team like this.”
It surely can’t next week vs. UCLA. Until then, Arizona will plan a couple of days of rest to be with their families or friends for the holiday.
“We need a break,” Lloyd said. “We’ve had a heck of a start to the season, and this doesn’t diminish it. It just reinforces it. I don’t know how many teams could have come into this environment, play like we did and come back a couple of times. To me, it shows something about this team. You have a choice to how you respond to something like this. We can’t let it send us the wrong way.”