Arizona Basketball

It’s March! Arizona must “toughen” up for the rest of the way

So, you thought Arizona was good enough to beat UCLA on Saturday night?

Maybe for 10 minutes or so, but not in Pauley Pavilion.

Not when the Wildcats have 17 turnovers.

Not when the Bruins go on a 15-0 run.

Not when UCLA has more points in the paint, 34-28.

And not when it’s only Azuolas Tubelis, who had 24 points, is the only one really making an impact.

There’s more but it all added up to an 83-72 win for the Bruins.

Azuolas Tubelis gets two of his game-high 24 points. (Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics)

Defeat doesn’t come any easier to explain. Arizona (25-6) finished second in the Pac-12 Conference for a reason – it was the second best team in the conference. It is what it is. Arizona will now face the winner of the Utah-Stanford game on Thursday night.

Yet, Arizona’s chances of playing – and perhaps beating – UCLA on Saturday in the title game of the Pac-12 tournament are pretty good, given UA has already defeated them. Figure it’s a neutral court and, well, by that time the seeding will have worked itself out for the NCAA tournament.

Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said Arizona “battled in stretches” but it wasn’t enough. Is it ever enough against good teams? Saturday it wasn’t.

He quickly said he was ready “to put this one behind us” and move on.

They have no other choice. But realistically, Arizona will have to return to Oumar Ballo getting better near the basket, Courtney Ramey hitting shots from the perimeter (and surprisingly get better from the free throw line), Kerr Kriisa will have to limit his shots while hitting those he takes and yet still run the team (with few turnovers). In order for Arizona to be very good – like it was a couple of months ago – all the pieces must jive together. The team is the sum of its parts.

No time to get that done than now. We’re in No Mistakes March. This is where teams are measured.

To Arizona’s credit – and Tubelis’ credit – he played his second consecutive good game.

“I just wish we would have gotten him the ball more,” Lloyd told reporters in Los Angeles. “Maybe be a little more creative with that, maybe a little more conviction.”

And, as Lloyd said in his postgame radio show, his team needs to “toughen up” a bit as it heads into the postseason. Arizona played fast and loose with the ball, losing many balls it shouldn’t have. But as we saw last year in tough games, Arizona needed to get tougher.

The rest of the way it’ll be that way and maybe Arizona gets another shot at UCLA on Saturday in Las Vegas.

“We have a lot of work to do, but if we do it’ll be a lot of fun,” Lloyd said.

Not if it’s like Saturday in Pauley.

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