Arizona Basketball

Oh, the road: It’s been a tough one, but Thursday Arizona wins in three OTs

For the first 20 minutes of Arizona’s game with Utah, the Wildcats looked like a team that could run away with the Pac-12 title.

The second 20 minute? Well, not so much. Then the next 10 minutes you wondered which team will show up and take control.

Well, the Arizona team that was able to take a 16-point lead in the first half was able to regroup – just enough – to pull away in the game’s final five minutes. Arizona won 105-99 in triple overtime, struggling at times and excelling in others.

Isn’t that Arizona’s season in a nutshell. Look good in great stretches and head-scratching in others?

Ariona has now won four consecutive games, but more importantly won on the road, which has given the Cats fits this season.

“It was effing awesome,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said in his post-game radio show. “It wasn’t easy.”

Then he brought some context into it. But playing in Utah usually does – on so many levels.

It was 21 years ago next month, Gonzaga (his former team) and Arizona went into double overtime, with Arizona prevailing on a last-second missed shot by the Zags.

Heck, it brought this memory to me: Santa Clara, behind a bunch of moppy-haired players, beating Arizona, 64-61, in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Salt Lake City, of course.

This time, Arizona left a winner.

“This is a special day,” Lloyd said, “But you know what? I was really proud of our guys. We started out  … got a 16-point lead and did a great job of executing the game plan.”

Then some turnovers came (to its credit, Arizona had just eight TOs all game) and Utah got hot from where else? Beyond the 3-point line. Utah hit 11 3s all night.

“They made some in transition … but I’m super proud of our guys for being with it,” Lloyd said. “It’s awesome.”

He can say that now, given Arizona moved to 18-5 overall and 9-3 in the conference, keeping sole possession of first place.

Arizona jumped out to a nice, comfortable lead (41-25) – do those even exist for Arizona anymore this season? – before Utah stormed back. Arizona was ahead at the half, despite Caleb Love having one of his worst shooting nights.

He did, however, finish with 19 points, hitting just 5 of 20 shots, but did come through in the overtime periods.

Arizona wouldn’t have been in it at all had it not been for Pelle Larsson, who returned to his original school (Utah) to have a career game. He finished with 27 points, 10 for 17 from the floor. He went 5 for 9 from the free-throw line.

“I told him he’d have 30 – make your free throws,” Lloyd joked. “Come on … but he played great.”

Then Lloyd waxed poetic on his players, saying Love “hung with it” and Kylan Boswell, who left with some sort of shoulder injury but later returned to get Lloyd’s approval.

Boswell had 16 points.

Oumar Ballo added 10 points and 16 rebounds in 45 minutes.

“I told him I don’t ever want to hear you’re tired,” Lloyd said. “That was pretty awesome. He did a great job.”

All five starters scored in double figures and survived what seemed to be some questionable late-game decisions and shots, as UA had chances to win the game in regulation, the first overtime and second overtime, but missed on a floater and two deep 3s.

“This is the type of game you look back at the end of the year (and ask) why did we win a league championship?” Lloyd said. “(Yes) we have a long way to go, but this is one of the ones you say we were tough enough to win on the road.”

Thursday night, after 55 minutes of play and 2 ½ hours on the court, Arizona was finally able to say that.

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