Arizona Basketball

Calm & Confident Cats pull away from Stanford to move atop Pac-12 standings

There was no rah-rah speech from Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd during any part of Sunday night’s game vs. Stanford.

Not when it was down by double digits in the first half and at halftime when Arizona was down by 11.

Lloyd isn’t known to do that. Maybe he has at some point, but …

“Not today,” he said after Arizona’s 82-71 win over Stanford at McKale Center. “I just keep reminding myself that I need a coach calm and confident. I think that’s when we’re at our best. It’s sometimes a challenge with some of my staff, especially some of the Italian guys (Riccardo Fois) on my staff. He brings great spirit and great energy, and he means well, and his fire helps us as well. My job is to stay calm and confident.”

Calm and confident.

Arizona was mostly not that in the first half when Stanford took Arizona’s revenge game and almost made it a repeat game, in as much as the Cardinal hit 3s like crazy to fluster or stun the Cats early. Stanford held a 45-34 lead at the half.

But, again. Lloyd had Arizona calm and confident.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

“He just said we’re good,” said KJ Lewis, on Lloyd’s halftime talk. “We just have to settle in and just be killers, be dogs on the defensive side and the offensive side will take care of itself.”

It was as simple as that. Stanford only managed 26 in the second. Despite Stanford hitting 14 3-pointers – two shy of its school record when the team’s played on Dec. 31 in Stanford’s 100-82 win – Arizona was able to find its footing (both offensively and defensively) and win going away.

Oumar Ballo and Caleb Love led UA with 18 points each. Pelle Larsson added 17. Lewis had 15 points.

Oumar Ballo gets loud after a basket. (photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics)

“Going into halftime, I think we were all calm,” said Lewis, “but we all knew what the mentality was in the second half. Just to really lock in and not give up easy transition buckets and guard the 3-point line.”

One would think that’s always the case – every game, and especially against Stanford, a team that shoots the 3-ball consistently well.

Stanford hit six of its first seven 3s and 9 of 19 in the opening half.

Box Score (PDF) – University of Arizona Athletics (arizonawildcats.com)

Once again, it took Arizona to get hit a few times before it would figure it out. Stanford shot 47 percent in the first half, but just 28 percent in the second half.

“We guarded a little better, we didn’t get beat individually,” Lloyd said of the second half. “They do a good job, it’s sneaky they beat you individually and they kind of are able to make the space just right to make your next pass which leads to the next pass … I could tell from the jump their coaches did a good job having their guys have a let it rip mentality. They weren’t hesitating on any of those shots. They’re hard to guard, so I think maybe just being a little better, a little more aggressive. And maybe the crowd helping us a little bit too.”

The crowd was into it … probably because it had to be, given the circumstances. At one point, Lloyd urged the crowd behind his bench to get up and cheer.

It worked. Or something did. The defensive team Lloyd continues to say he has showed up.

 “We’re built to be a great defensive team,” he said. “Now, we just need to do it all the time, and for the most part we have all year. Our defense, it’s maybe left us a few times … and it’s been pretty glaring, but for the most part it’s been pretty good.”

Good enough to put Arizona at the top of the Pac-12 Conference at 8-3 and 17-5 overall.

“It’s where we want to be, it’s where we feel like we belong,” Lloyd said. “We don’t take it for granted. We know there’s a lot of games to play. We know we got an incredibly tough road trip coming up here (Colorado and Utah).

“Being in the running for a regular-season conference championship means a lot. I’m proud that’s where we’re at, but I know there’s a lot of work to be done.”

Notable

Keyshad Johnson played about six minutes in the second half, and just 17:51 in the game. Lewis played most of the minutes Johnson would have played, but Lloyd confirmed Johnson suffered some sort of shoulder injury in the game and wasn’t a good matchup for some of the game. Apparently, the injury wasn’t what had him out, but Lewis’ strong play.Top of Form

“I told Key after the game – in a lot of ways he’s been our MVP, he’s just such a great guy, great leader behind the scenes – that the way they were defending I just didn’t think it fit his strengths,” Lloyd said. “We put KJ out there and he started playing well and Keyshad was the first guy to say `Guys, that’s awesome. I’m so happy we won and I’m so happy you guys balled out.

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