Arizona Basketball

What’s Love got to do with it? Plenty when it comes to the Wildcats

SALT LAKE CITY – Where or where would Arizona be without Caleb Love this season?

And where would Love be without Arizona?

“Michigan,” Love said, smiling. “I’m grateful to be here.”

It’s clearly a better place given the situation. Arizona is in the NCAA tournament again and Michigan is at home, looking for a new coach.

Fate has found its place for Love. The “player maker” as he described himself is home.

“I can make shots but I can also get my teammates involved,” he said on Wednesday here in Salt Lake on the eve of facing Long Beach State.

And he’s done that this season, averaging 3.3 assists a game.

He was named a third team All-American on Tuesday. He was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year last week. All considered, it’s been a good, solid season. He’s had season highs in scoring (18.1), field goal percentage (42.1), rebounding (4.7), steals (37) and assist to ratio (1.7)

How would he rate it?

“I made a big jump as far as my percentages go, I’m better as far as being an all-around basketball player,” Love said Wednesday. “I’ve enjoyed my overall experience. I’m grateful to Coach (Tommy) Lloyd and his staff to get this opportunity. I’ve tried to adapt to the team, and I’ve hoped to uplift them.”

And vice versa. He’s back in the NCAA tournament after a year out, given his time at North Carolina. His experience in the tournament is invaluable. He was part of North Carolina’s run to the Final Four a couple of years ago, averaging 18 points a game, having huge games en route to the Final Four.

Not all was great in the tournament. He went 6 for 30 in the Final Four.

He’s on that similar slump now as UA heads into its first-round game vs. Long Beach on Thursday morning.

Over the last three games, Love has gone 7 for 34 from the floor, including 4 for 21 from beyond the 3-point line. He’s averaging just over 6 points a game in the last three.

“I wasn’t really in a rhythm,” he said earlier this week. “It happens, you go through those stretches, but I’ve been playing long enough, and I’ve been through a lot of experiences, ups and downs. I think I just want to put that behind me, hit that reset button and I’m ready to go.”

Can it be that easy? Lest you forget he averaged 18.1 points on 42 percent shooting this season.

How do you get out of it?

“You have to be confident and keep it high,” he said.

Players like Love are born with confidence. It’s who they are and what they have inside.

Lloyd tells him that all the time. He also said earlier this week he didn’t want to make Love’s situation “a mountain out of a molehill.”

“You’re a great player and you’re fine,” Lloyd said, when I asked him what he tells Love under the current conditions. “I mean, a player like him that is a scorer, they’ve had this stuff happen to them before in their career, so they know how to respond …

“There’s no guarantee he’s going to play really well tomorrow. I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. I think he’s in a good way. He’s had a good approach all week. Now we need to get to noon tomorrow and get out on the court. He needs just to let it rip.”

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