Arizona Basketball

Lost Vegas: What’s to make of Arizona? Who knows? Now is not the time to not know

Through 33 games, the question still remains: Just how good is Arizona?

Well, depends on the day and the moment. But, shouldn’t we know by now?

There have been enough games – November to now going 25-8 – that could give you reason to believe in the Wildcats.

But do you really? And if you don’t who is to blame you?

Here’s the problem – it’s March and everyone knows – if you are an Arizona fan … March matters.

It mattered Friday night in Arizona’s stunning 67-59 loss to Oregon here at T-Mobile Arena in front of a pro Arizona crowd that must now decide to stay and play in Vegas or just go home and get ready for next week’s NCAA tournament. Coincidentally, Saturday is the one-year anniversary of Arizona losing to Princeton in the NCAA first round.

“We’re a program that competes for championships,” Lloyd said, when asked about the overall picture where UA looks to be locked into a No. 2 seed regardless of Friday’s frustration. “We’ve got a great fan base. We wanted to perform for them. We weren’t able to. But as true competitors, we gotta keep our head high and go back and understand that the greatest challenges lie ahead. And there’s going to be an amazing opportunity. And the one thing I know about the character of our program is the guys respond. I’m looking forward to seeing their response.”

He has no other choice.

On Friday night, I thought of that Princeton game  a time or two. Arizona had a double-digit lead against Princeton and then squandered it. Friday night it had a nice, comfortable lead of 14 in the first half, before settling for a 33-23 lead at the midway point.

Then the second half happened with Oregon looked more like Arizona than Arizona looked like Arizona, outscoring the Cats 44-26 in the second half.

When does that happen to Arizona, and how in the world can it?

Well, turnovers, offense going dark for 10 minutes (from the first half to the second half) and Oregon doing everything to find a win. And Arizona not finding ways to get out of its funk.

Oregon outrebounded UA by 10 in the second half and UA acted like it was allergic to the ball with balls it couldn’t catch or hold on to.

“They did a good job playing defensively with their hands, and they got their hands on a lot of balls where we maybe had a slight advantage,” Lloyd said. “They were able to use their hands to knock the ball loose, and those are good defensive plays.”

As for being outrebounded in the second half, Lloyd said, “we just kind of got a little bit stagnant on offense. And guys were standing around. When that happens, it’s usually hard to offensive rebound. So. they were able to control the glass at that end.”

So, control the Ducks did.

In March, that can’t happen. And it did. You’ve seen this game before. Those give you nightmares – concerns – just as this one will, too.

Before the season started, Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd spoke about the importance of getting a good enough lead – creating some comfortable wiggle room – in case poor play happens.

Apparently a 10-point lead at the half isn’t enough.

 “We got a little bit stagnant,” Lloyd said, saying it again. “Generally that’s not us. When it happened, maybe we had a few shots we hope we usually make and we didn’t. And then (Dante N’Faly) was kind of a force around the basket, protecting the rim and kind of raised a couple of layups. Maybe that got in the back of some of our guys’ heads. But give him credit. They run their little matchup-to-man zone defense pretty well, and tonight it worked.”

Arizona’s kryptonite once again – a zone. Somewhere along the line in the next, one, two, three games Arizona will face more zone. You know it. I know it. Who doesn’t know it?

“Definitely teams are looking at Arizona offense, seeing we’re struggling,” said Jaden Bradley. “Coach is doing a great job putting in a plan. The next couple of days we have to figure out how we’re going to attack the zone from now on.”

Um, it’s 32 games in. It may be too late. We will see. But the other concerning part is the play of Caleb Love, the Pac-12’s player of the year. He went 2 for 11 for six points. He looked disinterested and unengaged.

Thursday, he went 4 for 13. Arizona’s shooter isn’t making. And that’s troubling.

“Caleb’s had a great season. We’re trying to do the best we can to lighten the load on him and make sure he knows he belongs with us,” Lloyd said. “We love him. We love that guy. And he just hasn’t played well. The one thing I know about him is he’s high character, he’s tough, he’s a fighter. And I expect him to come back full force next week.”

As does Love, who said in the postgame locker room he needs to be a better leader and a better shot.

“Teams are kind of just making me uncomfortable,” he said. “They’re going to try to take me out of rhythm and it’s tough to get going, but I’m well-seasoned enough to get it going. And I’ve just got to find a way.”

As does everyone. But it’s no certainty it’ll happen.

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