ARIZONA BASKETBALL

Grind of final Pac-12 season prepared Arizona basketball for March

Mar 27, 2024, 5:06 PM

Keshad Johnson #16 and Pelle Larsson #3 of the Arizona Wildcats speak at a press conference before ...

Keshad Johnson #16 and Pelle Larsson #3 of the Arizona Wildcats speak at a press conference before practice for the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional at Crypto.com Arena on March 27, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

When it suits up to play No. 6 Clemson on Thursday, No. 2 Arizona men’s basketball will look to make it past the Sweet 16 for the first time in Tommy Lloyd’s tenure.

The team believes that the Pac-12 season — and its struggles at time during it — has prepared them for what they’re going through now.

Lloyd pointed to the stretch getting into conference play as one that was difficult to deal with, playing three straight neutral-court games to end the nonconference before two road games to start Pac-12 play.

The Wildcats went from Dec. 10 to Jan. 3 without a game at McKale Center in Tucson, winning just two out of five games over that stretch.

“We didn’t play a game in McKale. I think that kind of threw us off our rhythm a bit. We got a little tired,” Lloyd said. “We played some teams that played really well. But I think that adversity made us a better team today.”

Lloyd added the extra importance of being able to play early games in slates and be back home before the rest of the round finishes its games.

“It was good to get back, catch our breath a little bit, and have kind of a normal week of preparation for us because we’re used to playing on Thursday and Saturday,” Lloyd said. “(It) is basically what we do in our conference.”

Playing in the Pac-12 also prepared the Wildcats for the slower style Sweet 16 opponent Clemson likes to play.

“We’ve played a lot of teams that play slow in our league too,” Arizona wing Pelle Larsson said. “I think in these tournaments a lot of the game and the fight is about effort and the 50-50 balls, rebounding. Guys will get hot and make shots or not. It’s just those things you can control is your effort.”

While Arizona hasn’t been to the Elite Eight since 2015, two of their starters — Keshad Johnson (San Diego State, 2023) and Caleb Love (North Carolina, 2022) — have each been to the Final Four.

“What I learned the most is just do whatever it takes. Make your sacrifice,” Johnson said. “Try to make the game easier on your teammates, whether it’s Pelle getting a jump stop and he’s kind of trapped, if I back cut and I could get him a release, a bailout, just try to make the game easier on your teammates, do whatever it takes.

“Don’t really worry about the number of stats. That’s ‘me’ problems, you know? It’s bigger than me when it comes to March.”

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