SAN DIEGO – It’s the Heartstoppers vs. the Hard Stoppers.
You know who’s who when it comes to No. 1 seed Arizona and No. 9 seed Texas Christian.
One team likes to play fast (Arizona) and the other likes to play physical (TCU).
“We’re going to come out and battle,” Tommy Lloyd said. “I told our guys you’ve got to be ready for the physical battle and you’ve got to embrace it.”
It’s not like Arizona hasn’t been here before. It’s another challenge that goes against its style, but the Wildcats have seen it all before this season.
Want tough and rugged? Arizona faced Illinois and Tennessee and, um, UCLA and Colorado.
Arizona now faces a tough TCU that prides itself on defense and according to Lloyd TCU is “great defensively.”
He doesn’t speak lightly, given he said it would be a knock down, drag out game after his team defeated Wright State on Friday night.
“Seems like the whole Big 12 is – and Tennessee have tilted towards that no-middle, try-to-keep-you-out-of-the-inside defense,” Lloyd said of TCU. “And then on top of that they’re extremely physical. They’re a great rebounding team. That’s always a trademark of Jamie’s teams.”
That would be Jamie Dixon, the builder of programs and creator of good solid teams. He now has his alma mater in the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in, well, forever with a chance to get to the Sweet 16 for the first time ever.
Friday night, Wright State denied the middle as much as it could, and Arizona committed a number of turnovers to try to get the ball to Christian Koloko and Oumar Ballo. This one will be an even tougher task.
“The first thing you’ve got to be is strong with the ball,” Lloyd said. “And you’ve got to play with a thrust and play with our normal pace and movement that we do. And, you’ve got to trust your fundamentals.”
Of course, TCU will do all it can to prevent that. Dixon said it won’t be easy. The most similar team it’s faced like that is Kansas, a team it went 1-2 against.
Dixon said Arizona can score inside. Can score on the perimeter. And has good athleticism. And, oh yes, there’s that team balance where any player can step up and beat you.
“I think they’re unique,” Dixon said. “They have two bigs. They rotate those three guys (Ballo, Koloko and Azuolas Tubelis), and that used to be a little bit more common than it is now. But it’s hard to find three really good skilled big guys, and they’ve got them.
“… I think they’re very dissimilar to really anybody. It’s a very uncommon group out there now that they have, but, yet, they have good shooting, good spacing, (are) well coached, good pace of play, and depth. They have great balance offensively.”
In Arizona’s three losses – UCLA, Tennessee and Colorado – it faced teams that were more physical and effective.
“I think that was more on us,” Dalen Terry said of the three losses. “We just didn’t bring our physicality that day … We bring it eventually, but I feel like with the physical teams we’ve just got to do what we do (and) stick to our fundamentals.”
Arizona’s fundamentals are running and moving in transition. Attack mode is a priority.
“It doesn’t really matter what (game) we were in, Tommy was making that point across that we have to be in attack mode,” Terry said. “This is a tournament game. This is March. Anything can happen. So, you have to be in attack mode. We’ve got to come out throwing punches.”