LAS VEGAS – Tommy Lloyd almost teared up. His voice cracked. His emotions showed.
And it wasn’t because Arizona advanced to the finals of the Pac-12 Conference tournament after beating Colorado 82-72 but because of the process that was taken. And it wasn’t because he became the ninth college coach to reach 30 wins in his first year as a head coach.
Every road has a reason, right?
Lloyd stepped back and listened to his coaches and changed things up.
He gave his staff credit for encouraging some changes, ones that “traditionally I’m not very comfortable with,” he said.
“I almost get emotional thinking what those guys mean to me … they had some great ideas and we hung with it,” said Lloyd, the first-year coach at Arizona. “I told him (one of the players) after the game, our staff, the care factor is off the charts so you know for those guys to talk me into what we did today, they deserve a lot of credit because I can be pretty hard-headed sometimes.”
If you didn’t like Tommy Lloyd by now that had to have put you over the top. He got EMOTIONAL over a couple of game-changing decisions and Arizona was for the better because of it.
He can also be a softy for a continued-to-get-hardened team as the season moves on. Arizona used the plan to perfection and has now won 30 games this season. The win avenged Arizona’s only loss in the last 13 games or since Jan. 25. And that was the UCLA loss. Arizona can win the season series 2-1 with a win on Saturday vs. UCLA in the title game.
But it was UA’s loss to Colorado that had Arizona changing things, “picking your poison” as Lloyd put it.
They talked about having more gap integrity on defense, becoming stickier in the gaps, and having more ball pressure. And, perhaps most importantly, choke off the possessions near the basket.
“We’re a great paint protection team,” Lloyd said. “Sometimes I get greedy, and I want both. I want the paint protected and I don’t want any threes. Usually that’s a pretty good formula but sometimes you have to pick your poison against these teams. They did a great job executing it.”
Lloyd then rattled off the numbers. Colorado had eight field goals that we non-three-pointers to give the Buffaloes an 8 for 30 night. Conversely, Colorado shot 16 for 32 from beyond the 3-point line. The 16 3s are a new Pac-12 record for a game.
“If they shoot well from 3 and you choke down the lane and you limit free throws, it’s a formula,” Lloyd explained. “They’re going to score. You don’t pitch shutouts in basketball. Sometimes you gotta make decisions. Tomorrow we might come out with a different plan.”
Lloyd said he’d live with it.
“It was the winning formula,” he said.
One that almost brought him to tears.
So could have the performance of Azuolas Tubelis and Justin Kier, who made the start to replace the injured Kerr Kriisa.
No Kriisa, no crisis.
“You guys know what Justin means to the program and means to me, he was awesome,” Lloyd said. “I literally had zero reservations. Once I knew of Kerr’s injury and knew what it was going to be (he’ll be out until next week at the earliest) we kind of knew what it was going to be. I felt like we had a great chance to win the game … I’m just gonna see if I can petition the NCAA for seventh year of eligibility.”
Good luck. But he’ll have Kier – who said was “the man of the hour” – for the rest of the season and will continue to be Kerr’s replacement until Kriisa comes back. Lloyd said – again – Kriisa has a sprained ankle
“I think playing him playing next week is a real possibility,” Lloyd said. “We’re just gonna take it day by day. All the major stuff checked out okay, and now it’s just a matter of attacking it.”
They’ll attack with Kier at the point and Dalen Terry in the backcourt. They both did their parts, but Kier had 13 points and three assists and looked good in his new part-time role. In fact, younger Kerr, known for his outspokenness and spunk, went to Kier to give him advice. Remember that Kier is a few years older than Kerr.
“You got this, that’s all he was telling me,” Kier said. “I don’t need to tell you anything because I know you’re going to go out there and do great. (But) I started asking him questions, (like) what do you see out there, see anything I miss? He let me know I was ready for it, but I knew I was ready for it.”
So was Tubelis, who has been consistent all season, but really showed up on Friday night. He got in lanes for steals, he hit his usual 10-12-foot jumpers. He hit a 3-pointer. And he had 11 rebounds. He finished with 20 points, 18 came in the first half.
“We have some plays where I have a chance to go by myself,” he said. “I have other options to drive the ball, so I just drove the ball.”
Lloyd chimed in: “and when he shoots his left-hand hook like that it makes his coach really happy.”
Lloyd’s been happy most of the year when it comes to Tubelis, his understated forward.
“Zoo’s a special player,” Lloyd said. “What I love about him is he could take it to another level when needed. Over the course of his career there has been not been too many big games where he hasn’t shown up and been one of if not the best player on the court. I count on that.”
So, occasionally, Lloyd gives him that look of “hey, we need the great Zoo today.”
Zoo gives him the nod back and acknowledges the request.
“Then he goes out and does it,” Lloyd said.
Arizona shot a season-high 96 percent from the free throw line. UA went 24 for 25. In parts of the season, Arizona was criticized for not shooting well from the line in some games.
“It’s a game of averages,” Lloyd said. “It’s great.”