This was a game of the past, present and future for top-ranked Arizona.
How could it not be? Even though the Arizona side downplayed the history of the Arizona-Wisconsin recent series, it mattered. The UA side admitted as much Saturday afternoon after its 98-73 win over the No. 23 Badgers.
“Maybe it gave is a little more juice,” Pelle Larsson said.
Whatever it takes, right?
“I think we hit most of our goals and boxes for this game,” Larsson added. “I didn’t feel like we gave up like too much of a run to them.”
The big win was Arizona’s largest over a ranked team since 2002.
The 25-point victory might as well have felt like a 100-point win. Still, it doesn’t wipe away the tears, heartache and pain of a chance to get to the Final Four (in 2014, 2015), it did feel good for two hours on Arizona’s side.
To the Wisconsin side? Hell, Badger coach Greg Gard said, his guys were still taking recess and getting through grade school when that all happened so that wasn’t a factor.
“They smacked us pretty good,” Gard said.
To be fair, it only takes one side to feel like a jilted lover … and for a moment Arizona, again, felt good as it moved to 8-0 on the year. Arizona played its best start-to-finish game of the young season in a rout of the two top 25 teams.
“Our guys were pretty locked in and focused and made it really tough for them,” UA coach Tommy Lloyd said. “We made a nice run at the end of the first half and kinda got them on their heels a little bit and then we’re kind of able to play pretty steady in the second half and then maybe make it a little run there at the end. But all in all, I’m really happy with our performance.”
It was the second half of the first half that did in the Badgers. Arizona went on a 23-2 run that Wisconsin felt was a “50-2” run. It brought back memories of the past when the Lute Olson-led teams would have offensive stretches for the ages.
“I think we just kept our energy,” said Larsson. “I feel like when you play us, you got to have your energy the whole game. As soon as you relax, we’re going to keep going. So, we just kept going, trusting what we do, and eventually we’re going to get that run.”
Saturday nothing could stop Arizona, even Wisconsin, a team that already defeated Marquette and Michigan State.
“They are all different … but the unique thing about Arizona they can play fast and they’re big,” he said. “This isn’t rocket science: The eye test matches the eye test. They’re big. They can play in the half court and get out and run. They guard really well. They got some depth and depth as developing as those younger guys get better. They are pretty complete, not a lot of holes there.”
Especially, again, when all of Arizona’s key players have one of those days when everything clicks. Who didn’t have a good day?
Larsson even channeled his inner Steve Kerr, who sat in the front row with a watchful eye with former teammates Bruce Fraser and Matt Muehlebach.
Larsson had a career day with 21 points, hitting all six shots, including a career-high four 3-pointers.
Larsson said he felt good from the start.
“I felt the same,” he said, comparing it to any other game. “I actually made a joke to one of our managers that the shot felt good after one shot (in warmups) and I actually should stop, not even warm up. But I don’t know, I felt the same as always.”
The results were totally different. He was aggressive on every level, getting to the basket often. He added four rebounds and four assists.
“Pelle is one of these guys … he’s gonna give you what it takes to win,” Lloyd said. “He’s a really good player who is coming into his own. I know how talented he is. I think he’s one of the better wings in the country, without dispute, and I think people are gonna start to see that now over the course of the season.”
There’s no time like the present.
Then there was Oumar Ballo, who went 7 for 8 from the floor to finish with 15 points. He added nine rebounds.
Caleb Love was 7 for 13, finishing with 20 points. Pick a player and seemingly everyone contributed.
Once again, five players scored in double figures with Keshad Johnson having 11 points and Kylan Boswell getting 10.
“We want to be a team that shares the ball, and I told our guys, ‘I don’t need any heroes,” Lloyd said. “I don’t need anybody to stand out above anybody else. But at the end of the day, I want people to say that Arizona basketball team kicked some ass, and that’s what we’re fighting for.”
Arizona did exactly that.
The past did indeed meet the present for what they hope is a bigger future.
“We spend a lot of time talking about our Arizona basketball legacy,” Lloyd said. “This group right now, we’re in the sun, the sun is shining on us now. The sun has set on some of the guys in the past and it hasn’t risen on our future yet. So, we take it really serious.”