Arizona Basketball

For Arizona, ‘it’s about players finding solutions’ and they did against the Sun Devils in a win

When does an 18-point win not feel like an 18-point win?

Well, Wednesday night in Tempe and, well, for that matter the 2023-24 season. It’s been that kind of year, where up is down and down is up and just when things look good, they all of a sudden don’t.

That was Wednesday night when Arizona – an 85-67 winner over Arizona State – looked very good at times then, for whatever reason, didn’t.

Tommy Lloyd said he knew it would be a tough game, even after beating Arizona State by 45 earlier in the month.

“It felt like a close game for sure,” Lloyd said. “We need to be comfortable doing that and be able to find a way. Sometimes maybe it’s a play call from me that works and a lot of times that doesn’t work. It’s players finding solutions and our guys did a good job of finding some solutions in a tough second half.”

Tough given Arizona had a nice, comfortable lead from the jump to lead 41-27 at the half. ASU couldn’t hit a shot and Arizona looked like a top 10 team.

This may have been the moment when ASU coach Bobby Hurley thought – and later said – that in his nine years as an ASU coach this Arizona version “is most likely the best Arizona team that I faced … they’re a really good team. They deserve credit for outplaying us in the game.”

It proved to be a regular-season sweep of the Sun Devils and a continued steady march, um, to March for the Wildcats (22-6 overall, 13-4 in Pac-12). Or so, they’d like to think. That’s to be determined.

But, again, for a night Arizona looked good then not so good in spurts.

Kylan Boswell finished with 17 points, one shy of his career-high. (Arizona Athletics photo)

“We knew it was gonna be a hard game,” Lloyd said. “I’m happy we got out to a good start. I knew they were going to respond in the second half, but you’re always thinking that as a coach. I’m just hoping we could come out and hit first in the second half and maybe extend our lead a little bit and then really test them, but it didn’t happen that way. And I thought our guys did an incredible job of kind of managing a little bit of chaos in that second half.”

It didn’t have a choice. When Arizona State got it to single digits – five at one point – Arizona re-found its focus. Kylan Boswell, who played his best game this season, found a loose ball under the basket for a reverse layup and Caleb Love came through with a couple of 3-pointers (again).

“Caleb’s clutch and he’s not afraid of that moment,” Lloyd said. “… for him to knock that down right in front of our bench was awesome.”

And just like that Arizona was good again. The night was especially good for Boswell, given the public scrutiny he’s been under this season. He’s run hot and cold (coincidentally like Arizona?) and on Saturday was given a public chewing out by Lloyd. It may have fueled his play on Wednesday.

“To see him come out and respond like that, I think it’s a great sign for our team,” Lloyd said.

If you need a sign, that’s one. Arizona’s starting guard MUST play well for the team to play well. Isn’t it a tradition?

“I know he’s been under the microscope a little bit, and that’s what happens when you are the point guard at Arizona,” Lloyd said. “But I thought he played exceptional today, to have 17 points in this atmosphere for an 18-year-old is pretty awesome.”

Seemingly, all is right in the world, given Boswell got the message, later on Saturday texting Lloyd to apologize for his effort.

“A lot of people had their own opinions about the moment,” Boswell said. “Nobody on the outside knows (his and) coach Lloyd’s real relationship. I was upset at myself. Sometimes you don’t want to hear the truth, but after reflecting on it, I realized he’s always on me, trying to get on get on me and will support me for sure. And he always wants the best for me.”

All of them. When Arizona is at its best – and you saw the signs a time or two – it’s very good. Arizona had five players in double figures with Boswell leading the way. Love added 16 on a quiet night. Oumar Ballo had his eighth consecutive double double, 14 points and 13 rebounds. Pelle Larsson had 12 points and Keshad Johnson 10.

“We want to be able to not be a team you can load up on and focus on one guy,” Lloyd said. “To have different guys be able to score is really special. Our basketball. Our shots. Our effort. It’s always far superior to my shot or your shot. Collectively, we’re better together. Down the stretch here and getting ready for the postseason, that needs to be re-emphasized over and over and over.”

Sound the alarms. It’s March … by Saturday’s game with Oregon.

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