Tommy Lloyd had just settled into his postgame interview and said he “knew it wasn’t going to be easy.”
Oh, how right he was when it came to Arizona playing Stanford at McKale Center on Thursday night.
Arizona struggled for about a third of the time in its 81-69 win over the Cardinal.
Shocked? Maybe some would be, but it was all but predictable given:
Arizona came off its best game of the year on Tuesday.
Stanford came off another loss.
Arizona had horrible travel delays on Tuesday to create sleep and rest problems.
And, well, the “rat poison” continues to be a problem.
“These guys, obviously, are getting patted on the back a lot and I was hoping we’re strengthening and gaining on our immunity to the rat poison … I’m hoping because obviously there’s a lot of that out there,” Lloyd said of all the kudos the team is getting. “But I’m proud of the guys for how they played in the second half. I’m not down on them at all, and, you know, I’m just looking forward to cleaning some things up and getting back out on the court this Saturday.”
Arizona (27-3 overall and 17-2 in the Pac-12) will face California it the regular season finale. Arizona has already locked up the Pac-12 regular season title and will cut down the nets if they win on Saturday, Lloyd said.
But they must win, for that to happen, Lloyd added. There will be no celebration if they lose.
Thursday night – although the game was never really in doubt – it wasn’t all that clear if Arizona would have a blowout or a close game, so it was each throughout as Arizona couldn’t shake Stanford all night, trailing 39-37 at the half. Then, Arizona used a huge early second half to pull away before settling for a 44-30 second half advantage.
Arizona looked nothing like it did on Tuesday and a lot like it did on Saturday in its loss to Colorado. But this time, Arizona was good enough behind a strong performance from Christian Koloko who had 21 points and 10 rebounds and Bennedict Mathurin’s 24 points. Azuolas Tubelis was the other lone player in double figures scoring with 11.
“I’m happy how they responded in the second half,” Lloyd said.
Lloyd said the USC win felt like “a month ago” then came some travel issues as Arizona didn’t get home until after 4 a.m. after flight delays.
Lloyd called it worse than the Illinois debacle where the team had to take Ubers to their destination in December.
Because Arizona got back “really, really, really late” on Wednesday morning, Lloyd said the team didn’t do much in terms of getting ready for Thursday.
Lloyd said the guys had to go to class and they have a coach “that makes them practice. They just don’t get to go home and take naps.”
He added: “I’m proud of the guys for hanging in there.”
Hung in there because it attacked Stanford defensively, creating 23 points via turnovers. Arizona was harassing on the perimeter, creating 17 turnovers as it got into passing lanes.
“They’re a team that has struggled with turnovers against some pressure defenses,” Lloyd said. “Luckily, we were able to knock some balls loose and make some plays. Our offense wasn’t great in the first half.”
Lloyd said it was a game where “you’re thankful you’re good on offense because your defense wasn’t great but you’re good enough on offense to score 37 points. It wasn’t like you had a bad offensive half … I thought our offense kept us in there when our defense was trying to figure things out and then our offense and defense got a little bit better.”
Still, there are things Arizona must fix or get better at before the lose-and-get-eliminated format starts in a week. Again, the rat poison conversation came up. Don’t believe what’s being said, even if you are the No. 2 team in the country.
“I’m honest with them,” he said. “I coach them, and I show them areas they need to get better at.”
He mentioned Mathurin’s defensive performance wasn’t good enough and “he has to play good on that end of the floor because we’re gonna have him out on the floor a lot.”
And in those elimination games, he said, that’s when “we need five of five guys on the court, playing with effort, energy (and) spirited and executing … all those things. We don’t need three out of five guys; we need five out of five guys, and I just didn’t think we had that at all times tonight.”
But he knew that would happen.
Lloyd said he’s not clear how serious the injury to Dalen Terry is but said he expects Terry to play on Saturday. He was available to return to the game late but didn’t after falling and injury what looked to be one of his legs.