Arizona Basketball

Survive and Advance – Always the important thing in March, ‘don’t take anything for granted’

SALT LAKE CITY – The relief after Arizona’s win over Long Beach State was palpable.

So much so, Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd spoke about the pressures involved. It affects players, coaches, families … likely more. When does a 20-point win not feel like one? Probably Thursday, but Arizona will take the 85-65 win to advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

What a relief it was. Now, Arizona must face Dayton on Saturday,

But first things first.

“We’re in this game as a program last year (and lost, so) we don’t assume or take anything for granted,” Lloyd said in his opening statements.  “I was really proud of how we responded. I know, sitting in your guys’ seat (media members), you like the drama, all that stuff that comes with this tournament.

(But) there’s another side of it — the players and coaches who have to actually live it and feel it. A lot of us are pretty tunnel vision, besides our families, a lot else in our life. We feel the emotions.”

That’s how he started the press conference. And this is how he ended it: “The tournament pressure deal is real,” Lloyd said. “Anybody that says it’s not is lying to you.”

Arizona survived the pressure on Thursday morning into the afternoon. What a brunch it was. Wins do taste good.

“These games are precious,” said Oumar Ballo, who had 11 points and 13 rebounds for his 13th double-double in 14 games. “It’s game by game and every game is big. I’m glad we got the job done today.”

It took a strong second half, offensively and defensively. Defensively, Arizona made most every shot difficult in the first 10 minutes of the second half when Arizona went on a 16-0 run to create distance.

In the second half, Ballo had three blocked shots in a short stretch, and altered shots throughout.

“These guys rely on me to protect the basket,” Ballo said. “I’m here to clean up their mistakes. I have to do a good job of having my brother’s backs. When we get a good defensive stop that’s what leads to offense.”

Before the season started, Lloyd talked about having enough wiggle room in the end because of a strong start. Arizona’s start was a bit shaky but the start of the second half was strong.

Long Beach State played zone (imagine that) – but was able to get a six-point advantage the break, 41-35.

“I thought our guys did a great job of not letting the tournament pressure get in,” Lloyd said. “We turned it up, really focused one task at a time, made a few plays, flipped the script.”

Or had a rewrite.

“It was the first game, so I think we had to settle in and get used to the rims, get used to the balls,” said Caleb Love, who settled in and finished with 18 points and had 11 rebounds. “When we came out in the second half, we wanted to make sure that in those first four minutes that we took control of the game. I think that’s exactly what we did.”

Exactly. What. They. Did.

“It was energy and effort and we had more defensive focus in the second half,” said Kylan Boswell. “We had to get more stops.”

UA outscored Long Beach State, 44-30, in the second half. It had a 16-0 scoring run in the first four minutes, hit 45 percent of its shots (compared to 38 in the first half) and hit a school-record 13 3-pointers for an NCAA tournament game.

“If you’re open shoot it,” said Pelle Larsson, who went 3 for 5 from the 3-point line. He finished with 15 points. “We have confident guys who are going to make it .. then we have to double down with our offensive rebounding.”

What the 3s did were two things: it gave Arizona confidence in the first half and got Long Beach out of its dreaded zone.

Voila!

“Hey, I knew they were going to play zone a lot,” Lloyd said. “That seems to be a little bit of a trend play against us lately. I think our guys are settling in, getting better against it. The funny thing about zones is they’re all a little different. You have to kind of figure out where the little pockets and openings are. When you look analytically at them, opponents that shoot a high percentage of their total shots are 3-point attempts. We had to really shoot some 3s. We focus on jamming the ball inside, pounding it in there, getting to the paint.

“I knew we were going to have to take a lot of three shots. 35 three-point attempts for us is a lot, but that’s what the game called for today. Our guys did a grit job of knocking them down, including this guy right next to me here.”

Boswell was the guy next to him. In fact, Boswell, needing a game like this, was seemingly everywhere. He finished with a team-high 20 points, hitting 8 of 19 shots. He went 4 for 9 beyond the arc. He also had a dunk.

“You feel the first one go in and you get more confidence,” Boswell said. “I’ve put more work in the gym the last two weeks.”

Then there’s this stat: Arizona is 19-1 when Boswell reaches double figures. He had 11 in the first half.

“I’ve heard the outside noise … and tried to cancel that,” Boswell said. “I’m making sure my mentality is good. We had a talk with teammates and they want me to shoot more. They have a lot of confidence in me, I need to have more in myself … that’s my main focus.”

As for his dunk, the only one he has had all season. Well, it was nice, but …

“That was bigtime; I can’t lie,” Boswell said. “(Love) looked at me (and Boswell wasn’t passing it) and I was dunking it. He’s had enough dunks.”

How would he rate it?

“That was a four or five … gross, but it was a dunk and I don’t care,” he said.

All that matters is that Arizona moves on, something it didn’t do last year as a No. 2 seed.

“I want to play the next game right now,” Larsson said. “Keep advancing. We’re hungry as ever.”

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