Arizona lands 2nd-half knockout of Long Beach State in NCAA Tournament opener

Mar 21, 2024, 1:15 PM | Updated: 4:48 pm

Arizona point guard Kylan Boswell vs. Long Beach State in the NCAA Tournament...

Kylan Boswell #4 of the Arizona Wildcats reacts during the first half against the Long Beach State 49ers in the first round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Delta Center on March 21, 2024 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Tommy Lloyd preached toughness this offseason. The lack of it was why the Arizona Wildcats lost as a No. 2 seed last year in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against Princeton, but a similar narrative was again brewing in 2024 against No. 15 seed Long Beach State.

The Wildcats on Thursday missed layups and gave the underdogs and their already-fired head coach hope early on. But this time, they responded with a defensive knockout to start the second half that put the Beach away in a 85-65 win in Salt Lake City.

In the Round of 32, Arizona awaits No. 7 Dayton, which came from behind with a 24-4 run at the end of the game to beat No. 10 Nevada, 63-60 on Thursday.

Arizona trailed by as many as five points in the first half against LBSU but went up 41-35 at halftime. The Beach missed 15 field goals in a row spanning the end of the first half until the 15:09 mark in the second half as the Wildcats’ lead grew beyond 20 points.

The Wildcats went 13-of-35 from three — that set a program record for threes in a tournament game. It made them a plus-30 points beyond the arc as the defense held LBSU to 3-of-17 shooting from three.

“I knew they were going to play zone a lot,” Lloyd told reporters postgame. “That seems to be a little bit of a trend playing against us lately. I think our guys are settling in, getting better against it. … We had to really shoot some threes. We focused 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.”

Point guard Kylan Boswell led the Wildcats with 20 points, adding eight assists and two steals. Backcourt mate Caleb Love went 6-for-17 but added 18 points, five assists and 11 rebounds.

Center Oumar Ballo scored 11 points and made all four of his shots. He also pulled down 13 boards and blocked four shots.

Arizona bombed threes against Long Beach State’s zone early on to help it jump out to a 17-9 lead, but the Beach went on a 13-0 run over five minutes while holding the Wildcats.

The worry for LBSU was this: its switching zone defense didn’t make the game the slog it appeared to be.

Arizona shot just 39% from the field, mostly because the teams combined for 15 missed layups in the first half. Ten of those were by the Wildcats — and in the first 12 minutes of the game.

Arizona was getting good looks. And even though LBSU shot 40% in the first half, it was Arizona’s defensive improvement that broke the game open early in the second half.

“In the second half we were playing really good defense,” Ballo said. “I felt like our defense always dictates our offense. We just did fast breaks. When you have stops like that, you have to celebrate. That’s how we’re having fun every game.”

Aboubacar Traore and Amari Stroud led the Beach with 15 points each. Traore also led the team with 15 rebounds and four assists.

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