DURHAM, N.C. – The message was simple from Tommy Lloyd to his team in the second half when things got a little sketchy there: Play with poise.
And not because the team would make good decisions after making bad ones – and Arizona made a few bad ones in the second half – but because they were better than that. Be controlled. Time and circumstances.
“You play with poise because you are the better team,” Lloyd told his team. “Trust that you are the better team over the course of 40 minutes. I knew it’d be a small margin (of victory). But, I really love this group of guys and I feel like we’re going to be as good a ballclub as anybody in the country.”
Friday night in primetime, Arizona surely showed it here at a sold out, crazy Cameron Indoor Stadium in its 78-73 win over No. 2 Duke. Arizona has now won three consecutive games over Duke. LLoyd is 5-1 vs. top five teams at UA.
Arizona showed up like it did so many years under Lute, winning big games in November. And now continuing to win big games under Lloyd, given he remains undefeated in November as UA’s head coach.
There’s no rhyme or reason, Lloyd said. No secret formula. They just play hard, together and find ways to win.
“My goal is to win all our games in March and April,” Lloyd said. “That’s really my goal. I don’t have a November little checklist to win all my games in November. I’m glad we’re winning. (It’s) better than losing. But no, nothing more than that.”
Friday night, Arizona surely looked the part of a top five team, playing on the road with a cast of characters that were new and seemingly old.
Lloyd said he knew they’d take some punches and deal with runs. And they did.
“We knew we’d keep throwing as well,” he said.
They did throughout, not feeling the stress of playing in front of a loud and crazed crowd.
Instead, newcomers Caleb Love felt at home in Cameron. Keshad Johnson, just off the pressure of a Final Four, felt no pressure coming up big with back-to-back baskets late, to keep Arizona close and ahead.
Kylan Boswell – you know he’s only 18, right? – came through with another floor-general game, looking poised (that word again) with 12 points, five assists and eight rebounds.
Oumar Ballo came through in clutch moments after a shaky first half with 13 points and five rebounds.
Who didn’t come through?
“I think we got a bunch of winners, I’m really proud of how he kind of handled the situation at the end,” Lloyd said. “There was a lot of situations where you try to practice them, but it’s a little different on the road.”
And against a team – a program – like Duke.
In the end, Arizona played situational basketball to perfection, hitting free throws to clinch the game and playing near flawless ball down the stretch.
In preparation for the game, Lloyd said he’d learn from the game in a loss, and in a win. Well, what did he learn?
“Believe it or not you don’t get a trophy for winning your second game of the season,” he said. “I know a lot will be made of us winning here … but we’re on a longer journey than this. Winning at Duke is nice, but we have a good Southern team (Monday at McKale) that beat UNLV by 20 (earlier this week).”
Until then, enjoy the moment. Love will remember his “bullshit” shot he hit from halfcourt at halftime to give Arizona a 41-33 lead. Those were his words.
But BS or not, he loved returning back to Carolina where he hadn’t had this much luck or fortitude against the Blue Devils while with North Carolina last season. He was 0-2, but now got one. It helped by hitting four consecutive free throws to help maintain a lead late. “They felt good; I work on free throws every day,” Love said.
He admitted he had been thinking of this game for a while, ever since seeing it on the schedule.
“We came in and handled business and that’s all that matters,” he said. “I’d glad we did it.”
By the time the game was over – and the fans started to file out – Love started waving.
“I just told them, ‘goodbye’ and that it was over with,” he said.
Could it have scripted any better for Arizona, given Love’s connection to Duke?
“I’m not a scripter,” Lloyd said, smiling. “I just try to coach the games in front of me. I’m not surprised he made them. He deserved that moment. I don’t know if he played good or bad day. … I can imagine it’s a pretty emotional moment. He’s a competitive guy, but for him to calmly step up and go forth (and hit the shots) shows a lot about him as a competitor.”
And what about Johnson, who came up huge in back-to-back moments in the final minutes. There was no design a play moment for him. He just ended up with the ball near the basket and hit the shots.
“We have guards that are willing passers, and so I know he was probably the recipient of a nice pass by a guard,” Lloyd said.
What it did was show the strength of the team in what was a tough, physical game. And Arizona didn’t wilt. In fact, it flourished, outrebounding Duke 45-33 in the game and 29-15 in the opening half. And the defense was there, too.
“We’re built for it,” Lloyd said. “Look at our bodies. We’ve got some dogs. And they played like it. There are some dudes right there.”
The dudes/dogs, er, Cats are now 2-0.