About seven or so hours before Arizona’s tipoff with Colorado on Saturday, the NCAA committee did its early projection of next month’s NCAA tournament, stating the Wildcats are good enough to be a second seed in the west.
Sound the alarms?
Hardly, it’s another day at the office or just a Saturday when there’s a lot to do to get better for Arizona, a 78-68 winner over Colorado in McKale Center.
In what seemed like a Saturday evening walk in the park for some wasn’t for head coach Tommy Lloyd.
“It’s kind of meaningless,” he said when asked about the No. 2 seed. “I didn’t feel like we played like that team tonight. We obviously got to play better. At the end of the day, it’s just about getting better. If you stub your toe, you’re gonna be quick to fall. So, let’s hope we can learn from some of these games, continue to get better and then come Selection Sunday, we’ll see where we end up.”
Despite moving to 24-4 overall and 13-4 in the Pac-12 race, Lloyd is cautioning for curves ahead if his team doesn’t play better and/or get better.
For 32 minutes or so, Arizona looked the part of a pretty good team … the first eight, well, not so much. By the time, fans had settled into their seats, Arizona was down 18-8 and looking like it would struggle – again – with a perceived less opponent. Figure that, Colorado went into the game a 12-point underdog.
Arizona had four turnovers in its first five possessions.
“They gotta figure it out better than that,” Lloyd said when asked about not calling a timeout but the team tying it soon after at 18-18. “I mean, we’re at home and you’re playing in McKale, and you have an experienced group that’s won a lot of games. I don’t know if they need me calling a timeout and chewing them out two minutes into the game.”
He figured that wasn’t “the smartest thing” for the team and he could use the timeout better later.
“They did right the ship,” he said. “I think by the second media timeout (12 minutes), we had evened it up, and once we evened it up, we did ok. But (we’ve) got to start off better than that. We didn’t play great by any stretch. Colorado gets some credit for that. We got to play better. We got to play cleaner. We got to play tougher. We got to play smarter.”
And they did most of the rest of the way, although Colorado won the second half – outscoring UA by two, 34-32 – but it was a game where for 32 minutes saw some good things and – once again – a concerning thing.
First, Oumar Ballo had 18 points and a career-high 16 rebounds. Cedric Henderson, Jr., had 15 points on 6 of 8 shooting. Pelle Larsson had 11 points, nine from the free throw line.
Arizona had 40 points in the paint and a lead that, at its peak, was 17.
“It’s usually one of our strengths,” Lloyd said of scoring near the basket. “Defensively, Colorado has a really good team at driving the basketball and they do a great job of getting out there and getting free throws, which they got a little bit today, which makes the points in the paint a little bit misleading. But we obviously want to go inside and then defensively we want to protect the paint. It’s nothing more complicated than that.”
Ballo had a lot to do with it. He looked as dominant as ever, given the circumstances of Azuolas Tubelis struggling for the third consecutive game. Arizona went with him as often as possible.
“His energy and effort would show today,” Lloyd said. “Oumar has been back (at full strength) for a while. Oumar – he had that one tough week when we had the Washington schools at home, and he wasn’t feeling well. And, he had a few family issues happen that same week. But he’s kind of pulled through it and he’s great. For him to have 18 and 16, those are big-time numbers.”
Tubelis – despite his numbers 13 points and four rebounds – continued to play fewer minutes than usual (22 minutes). He sat out most of the first half with two fouls.
“It’s not part of the plan, Zu sitting,” Lloyd said. “Maybe it’s a little bit bad luck, and a little bit self-inflicted wounds. He’s got to be smart. And he’s got to play better. He’s had an amazing year. I think he’s the conference MVP, but I guess that’ll be determined.”
While Zu has been out, though, Lloyd has been able to mix and match different looks. It means others have benefitted from the extra time.
“I’m always gonna look at it as a blessing in disguise and that’s how you have to attack it,” Lloyd said. “We got to diversify our minds a little bit. I think that playing small with four guards out there is good for us and, and playing the five guards together for a stretch is going to be good for us too.”
Whatever works … in wins. Just so it stays near the top of the seedings in three weeks.