When Kerr Kriisa hit his first 3-pointer in what seemed like a lifetime – actually with 15:23 left in the second half – Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd was happy.
The McKale Center crowd was ecstatic. But for Lloyd, it’s likely he was happy a time or two – maybe three – moments before then, too, but it signaled Kriisa’s shot CAN go in.
“But then he came down and he shot a really tough next one,” said Lloyd of Kerr’s first 3 made in a while. “That’s not how you get yourself back on track. The way to get yourself back on track is you shoot quality shots within the rhythm of the offense. I felt like we were maybe trying a little bit too hard, you know, at some points today to get ourselves going a little bit … it’s because guy’s care. They want to contribute to the team and so it’s not a bad thing, but we just got to have a little better understanding of what efficient good shots can be because those are the ones, you’re gonna make.”
Kerr finished 2 for 8 for six points in Arizona’s 67-56 win in front of a packed McKale Center red-wearing crowd.
They saw Arizona defeat ASU for the third consecutive time and a game that Lloyd called “choppy” and a “rock fight” but a winning one. His team shot 32 percent from the floor – both teams did – and “I haven’t been a part of many games like that.”
It seemed it would be a Saturday walk in the park for UA – going against a struggling ASU team given it was a 21-point favorite – but it wasn’t. Arizona was tied at halftime and down by as many as eight in the first half.
“I had a feeling this game wasn’t gonna be pretty,” Lloyd said. “We’re a team still trying to recover from that long road trip and a season that kind of builds up on you. You kind of gotta go through these dog days sometimes … to get a positive result against a rival when you don’t play your best is a positive thing.”
The positives are obvious: Arizona continues to get a healthier Azuolas Tubelis (he started), Arizona is now 17-2 overall and 7-1 in the Pac-12 Conference. It keeps pace with UCLA in preparation for Thursday’s quick turn-around rematch with visiting UCLA.
Until then, Arizona must find a way to locate its offense.
Because just like that, Arizona has gone from a controlled chaos to a cause for concern. Clearly, the Cats are having “dog days” on the perimeter when it comes to shooting. It’s the second consecutive game for it and it’s been spotty for a couple of weeks now. But opponents are doing what many think is the solution to solve the Arizona puzzle: go slow, play some zone, play deliberate, limit possessions and, well, hope it works out.
Arizona State tried to do that – but just wasn’t talented enough to get the win. UCLA did that and, well, was good enough.
“I’m sure that’s what every team wants to do,” Lloyd said. “I’m not naïve. I know that sometimes as you get later in the season these games aren’t gonna be track meets. I think it’s important to be able to win games (with) a lot of different styles. We’re okay having to grind it out in a half court… it doesn’t mean we’re afraid of that. It doesn’t bother me a bit, but if you could defend like we do sometimes if there’s less possessions it could be to our advantage.
“We’ll keep trying to play the way we want to play with great pace and tempo and ball movement, but if the game kind of comes to a screeching halt I’m not opposed to throw(ing) the ball inside more and see what those guys can do.”
Arizona did exactly that, thriving behind Christian Koloko and Oumar Ballo who showed Arizona is not just a team that will rely on its outside shot. It’s not the first time, given UA’s struggles lately. Koloko had a nice game, finishing with 12 points and 13 rebounds. Ballo had 14 points as did Bennedict Mathurin.
“It just seems like we’ve kind of lost our flow offensively a little bit – maybe not making some shots that we hit early (in the season),” Lloyd said. “Then maybe (we) have some guys questioning themselves a little bit, which is natural. So, we’ve got to do a great job as a staff at building that backup and they’ve got to do a great job as individuals of just making sure that they’re, you know, keeping their confidence at a high level.”
So, when the offense isn’t there, Arizona has been able to turn it on with defense. It did on Saturday afternoon. It pressured some in the first half and then again in the second, making it difficult for Arizona to get into any rhythm (although it’s not a rhythm team to begin with).
“We’re a good defensive team and to be able to hang your hat on your defense in a stretch where your offense is struggling like it is, it’s very important to competing for championships,” Lloyd said.
“To have a good offense, you’ve got to have a good defense. Even though shots aren’t going in, you’ve got to keep playing hard on defense.”