Arizona Basketball

Shots don’t fall for Arizona, but Arizona does in another Sweet 16

LOS ANGELES – Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd thought he had a chance to breathe a little longer, maybe even stay in the NCAA tournament a tad longer as well.

But it was not to be … again. Arizona fell for the third consecutive time in the Sweet 16.

Arizona has now fallen in the first round (last year) as a No. 2 seed, Sweet 16 as a No. 1 seed (two years ago) and in the first round (in 2018) as a No. 4 seed.

Just when the path to the Final Four looked so good for Arizona – in Glendale, no less – Clemson proved to be the road block. There have been a number of them through the years.

Life in the NCAA tournament has not been kind to the Wildcats.

To be perfectly fair, Arizona fell too early in the tournament in another season (Lloyd’s third), although Clemson played its game and Arizona didn’t play much of its. Clemson probably had something to do with that.

Lloyd said “Clemson put them on their heels early.”

Arizona was able to recover … and then didn’t. Or not completely.

It happens, seemingly too much for Arizona in the last few – hell, more than a few – years.

It all came to an end on Thursday evening when Arizona fell 77-72 to the Tigers in the Sweet 16 and in Los Angeles where the Cats have few lives left. It’s the fourth consecutive time Arizona has failed to get through playing in LA. If you throw in Southern California and it’s a longer fail, given its history in Anaheim.

Sadly, it just is.

“Today was our day,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said.

And it wasn’t for Arizona … again.

It’s another season of what could have been. As a reporter pointed out, Arizona had more rebounds (44-36), more free throws (17-11), more fastbreak points (22-5), more bench points (27-17), more second chance points (15-2), points in the paint (40-30) … and STILL lost.


Arizona together. (Photo Courtesy Arizona Athletics)

Oh, lest we forget Arizona – this hot and cold team all season – went frosty, 37.3 percent from the floor and just 5 of 28 from beyond the 3-point line. Oh, and then there was a 10-minute (a lifetime in hoops) where Arizona couldn’t get a basket in the second half.

“You’re right about the shooting percentage. I think our starting guys that shoot 3s were 2-for-23, which is a lot to overcome,” Lloyd said. “I feel like some of them were good looks and shots we’ve made all season, and today they just didn’t go in.”

Which compounded throughout because Clemson took advantage. With a surge to begin the second half – to help eliminate a 39-31 halftime lead – Arizona found a way to tie it a couple of times and even go ahead 46-45. Then, … the Tigers found another gear. And Arizona fell into its first-half habits.

“I thought we were fine,” Lloyd said, of the second half and eventually taking over. “I mean, we didn’t play well (at) the start of the game. We were only down eight at the half. We had other games we (where we) were down 19 or 20 and been able to come back and win them. So, I thought we were fine.”

They weren’t. But he continued.

“I thought we were well-positioned for how we started the game. And we made that first run in the second half, which was great. And from there, they’re going to probably make a little run. But then hopefully it’s a little one and we make the next run, and we can kind of eventually build a four-, six-, eight-point lead. And we were never able to do that. So, Clemson gets a ton of credit for that.”

They found a way to stymie the aforementioned starters. Pelle Larsson was 2 for 9, 1- for 6 from 3; Kylan Boswell was 1 for 6, 1 for 5 from 3; and UA’s engine that could, Caleb Love, didn’t, going 5 for 18 from the floor, including 0 for 9 from 3. Love called the ending “brutal” in how it ended. “Devastating.”

“I just missed shots,” a distraught Love said in the locker room. “I was getting downhill and maybe I should have done that more. I put it on me. I felt they were good shots, but they didn’t go in.”

And as he said, “it was the worst time” for them not to fall.

Yet, Lloyd kept him out there, “and I was just praying and hoping that I was going to, you know, make one for us to go up… it just wasn’t falling for me.

Still, it was a mini microcosm of the season: if Love struggled, Arizona struggled. And if Oumar Ballo struggled at the line. Arizona would be in trouble, too.

Oumar was 1 for 7 from the line.

Still, Arizona had a chance … although slim, given it dug itself a hole for itself – or Clemson dug it for them, as they went up double digits early in the game.

“The momentum was on their side,” Love said. “I couldn’t (hit shots). We couldn’t hit shots early. I think we were settling for 3s a bit too much, including myself. Maybe we had to do a better job of getting Big O involved. But we didn’t do that.”

Super-sub Jaden Bradley did all he couldn’t help Arizona pull it out, scoring 18 points, 16 coming in the second half. But he was hardly enough.

“At halftime we harped on dig deep, dig deep, get stops and do whatever it takes to help my team,” Bradley said.

Jaden Bradley (Photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics)

Added Lloyd: “Playing the way he did, maybe we lose by 14, 16 points. But J.B. got in there and we were down to the last minute and gave ourselves a chance.”

But that’s all they had, a chance. Clemson found easy baskets in the final minute, two dunks on backdoor plays and then a breakaway. By then, you knew it was over.

Way too early.

When Lloyd has time to reflect on this season, he said, “Love. I love these guys. I love the culture we’re starting to really build at Arizona. I feel like I’m real big on eventually getting some compound return on our investment. I think we’re going to do that. I think we’re doing all the right things.

“Obviously we’re not perfect and no one is, and we don’t ever want to be perfect. We just want to be making progress, so I love where we’re at. I think I wasn’t ready to take a breath but I’m going to take a breath and we’ll re-evaluate, and we’re going to have another really good offseason and continue to build.”

Just not this weekend or next.

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