LAS VEGAS – Who didn’t know Arizona’s men’s basketball schedule wouldn’t be difficult? Ambitious at the very least. Arguably, one of the most aggressive schedules in some two decades.
And, well, it all caught up to the Wildcats on Saturday. Heck, all week, given UA went to Indianapolis, Phoenix and Vegas in a matter of seven days.
Or was that daze?
Of course, Arizona is good – very good, some say – and is capable of the grind. Or you’d think. Weren’t the Cats just the No. 1 team in the country just a few days ago?
Saturday, it fell against No. 14 Florida Atlantic at T-Mobile Arena, 96-95 in double overtime, at T-Mobile Arena to lose for the second time in a week. UA is now 9-2 overall. It ends the preseason schedule before coming back next week to start the e Pac-12 Conference schedule.
Arizona needs the break, UA coach Tommy Lloyd admitted after admitting the last week was tough.
He said he couldn’t wait to get together with his staff to figure out “the next uptick for this team because this team has a lot of growth in it. And we’re going to try to tap into everything we can.”
Saturday, the uptick wasn’t there consistently enough.
Shots didn’t fall. Energy wasn’t met (at times).
“We didn’t win today but we’ve got winners,” Tommy Lloyd said.
Still, Lloyd wouldn’t change a thing. He’d run the schedule all over again.
“One hundred percent,” Lloyd said. “I wish this was the NBA. We’re just on to the next one when these losses didn’t hurt as much, but in college they hurt — especially with a program like Arizona and you’re not used to losing but you know, we’re built for it.
“There’s no shame in losing to Purdue; there’s no shame in losing the Florida Atlantic. They’re an incredible team and extremely well coached.”
Said Caleb Love: “I’m glad coach put this schedule together because, you know, we know what to expect going forward.”
Lloyd was impressed with the Owls from the beginning, middle and after.
“We knew it was gong to be tough,” he said. “When we went up, I was like, the chances of us continuing this is probably pretty slim. To their credit they dug back in the game.”
Then came the back and forth in what FAU’s coach Dusty May said was a high-level game that felt like a late February conference championship between two good teams.
And for the most part he and Lloyd were correct, save for the poor and inconsistent shooting both showed throughout. Consider UA shot 39 percent from the floor. And hit just 7 of 25 3-pointers.
And yet still had a chance to win against a team that shot 50 percent from the floor.
What counted the most – well, what didn’t count – was Caleb Love’s last shot at UA’s chance of winning. In the final moments, UA drew up a play for either Love or Kylan Boswell. Love, who finished with 26 points, found some separation, and took a last-second 3-pointer but clanged off the rim.
“I thought it was going in, but you know, I probably should have gotten in paint (closer to the basket) or something,” Love said. “There was three seconds left. I tried to create some space and get the shot up, but I’ll learn from that shot for sure.”
Arizona looked to run away with the game early, getting out to a big lead only to see the veteran Owls storm back in the second half. UA had a 42-36 lead and looked well on its way to a victory.
Six minutes into the second half, the Owls erased the UA lead and led 51-43. It held that lead for about 10 minutes, before Arizona returned to form to make it close the rest of the way.
“Once we settled in and got into the fight, I think we got lost in the game,” FAU coach said. “But our guys in the second half were excited because they felt they played very poorly, and we were still right there.”
As was Arizona. But it couldn’t get past shooting so poorly. Usually steady Boswell went 4 for 16, 2-8 from beyond the 3-point line. And Love, despite having 26 points, was 8 for 25.
What kept Arizona in the game was its rebounding. It had 52 to FAU’s 39. Yet, still lost.
It was Arizona’s first loss under Lloyd in T-Mobile, having gone 8-0 before Saturday.
He dismissed the win streak.
“I don’t make anything of that,” Lloyd said. “We love playing here but about the undefeated thing … when you get out there with other really good teams, you’re gonna win some, you’re gonna lose some. I know this team is built to win most of those and we’re going to try to take the next step forward to ensure (they win more).
“Give ourselves a little more margin for error and some of these high-level games.”
There’s that “margin for error” comment – again. It’s come up a few times this season, most glaringly at the beginning of the season when Lloyd said Arizona needs to get up and big to give Arizona some wiggle room down the stretch.
Saturday, there was little wiggle room. It couldn’t stop Johnell Davis, who had 35 points and outdueled Love.
“It’s my job to make sure we’re increasing that margin for error because you come out and you play a really good Florida Atlantic team has really good players and a really good coach … (but) if (Love) makes that shot we feel like we’re invincible, but, in reality, you’re not. So, we just got to hunker down and bounce back from this — and we will. Our guys are hoopers. They like to play so I’m not worried about that.”