No. 5 Arizona firing on all cylinders ahead of Arizona State matchup

Feb 15, 2024, 8:07 PM

Pelle Larssson hugs Keshad Johnson...

Arizona's Pelle Larsson, right, hugs Keshad Johnson (16) after the team's win over Utah in three overtimes in an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

On Jan. 25, Oregon State’s Jordan Pope hit a 3-point buzzer-beater to down the Arizona Wildcats 83-80. After the game, head coach Tommy Lloyd urged that this loss has no impact on the team’s morale going into the next game and the rest of the season.

“If our guys want to win now because they lost today, they’re in the wrong program,” Lloyd said after the loss. “If you wear an Arizona jersey, you want to win every day.”

The Wildcats haven’t lost since.

Arizona’s strong run of form prior to Arizona State matchup

Going into their rivalry matchup versus Arizona State, No. 5 Arizona has won five straight games.

They’re back in the top-5 in the AP Top 25 poll for the first time in 2024 and are still undefeated at the McKale Center this year with a 12-0 record at home. They also rank third overall in the 2024 NET Rankings.

The Wildcats score 90.1 points per game, the second most in the entire country. Arizona also boasts a 16.6 positive point differential, which is fourth nationally.

That positive point differential was put on display in their most recent win over Colorado. The Wildcats won 99-79 and had five separate players score more than 10 points.

“Our guys are competitors, and they’re winners. Everyone was trying to make excuses for us, but we don’t make any excuses,” Lloyd said after the win.

Four seniors in the starting lineup provide efficiency and experience

Senior guard Caleb Love has been lights out this season for the Wildcats. The transfer star from North Carolina leads the team in scoring with 18.9 points per game.

Love has scored more than 15 points in each of his last three games and had a season-high 36 on Jan. 27 on the road versus Oregon, the game after Pope’s buzzer-beater heartbreak.

Love is joined by fellow senior Pelle Larsson on the wing. Larsson has been playing arguably his best basketball all season recently, he tallied up 27 points in a three-overtime thriller win over Utah on Feb. 8.

The frontcourt is a two-headed veteran monster with seniors Keshad Johnson and Oumar Ballo. Ballo is practically averaging a double-double with 13.2 points and 9.8 rebounds per game.

“I think we, as a team, are in a good spot,” Ballo said. “We are not taking anything for granted, and we are turning in the right direction as individuals and a team.”

Even with four seniors frequenting the starting lineup, the Wildcats have plenty of depth with their underclassmen as well.

Sophomore Kylan Boswell rounds out the starting lineup and consistently puts up double-digit buckets, averaging 10 points a contest.

Sophomore Jaden Bradley has been lethal off the bench, scoring 15 against Colorado last time out. The freshmen duo of Motiejus Krivas and KJ Lewis provide sufficient minutes for Arizona and take turns being spark plugs when needed.

The Territorial Cup awaits

The Wildcats will be returning home after two games on the road to face their perennial cross-state rivals, Arizona State, on Saturday.

The last time these teams met in the McKale Center, it ended with a 60-foot half-court shot at the buzzer from former Sun Devil Desmond Cambridge Jr. to give the Sun Devils the 89-88 win.

However, this season for ASU can be described as an up-and-down one.

The Sun Devils, who sit at 13-12, won their second straight game on Wednesday against Oregon State 79-61 after losing five contests in a row before that.

They forced 14 turnovers in the second half versus the Beavers and shot 57.7% from the field as a team, their highest of the season.

Their backcourt has been their strength with junior guard Frankie Collins scoring 13.7 points a fixture while swiping 2.9 steals per game.

Guards Adam Miller, Jamiya Neal and Jose Perez all average over 10 points for the Sun Devils and are the only other players besides Collins to do so.

“They’re a dangerous team,” Lloyd said. “We know they’re gonna come in here and they’re gonna give great effort. They have some really talented players that play extremely hard.”

Lloyd and Ballo both expressed how the Sun Devils are one of the most aggressive teams on defense that the Wildcats are going to have to play this season.

“They’re very handsy,” Ballo said. “They go for lots of steals and are very aggressive. For us to play our best, we have to play with fundamentals and play easy. Make it simple.”

The Wildcats sit at 19-5 on the year and even with all the success they’ve had so far, there’s still much to be done. So far, though, Arizona has made playing basketball look simple.

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