It was a wild and memorable afternoon at McKale Center on Saturday, with former Wildcat Benn Mathurin getting inducted in the Ring of Honor and the vast majority of the football team coming out to announce they were returning for next season.
Oh yeah, and an epic 19-point comeback by Arizona to beat UCLA in what is the final meeting between the longtime rivals in Pac-12 play.
“The game literally felt like it took eight hours for me,” UA coach Tommy Lloyd said afterward.
Lloyd, who earlier this season called out season ticket holders who weren’t showing up to games, had huge praise for the sold out crowd that remained invested despite Arizona trailing for most of the first 35 minutes.
“We weren’t giving them a lot to cheer about and then they hung with us and got us through,” he said. “Thank goodness we played (UCLA) on this day and at home, because if that’s anywhere else we’re probably not getting that outcome.”
Our game recap can be found here. Below is that Lloyd, Oumar Ballo and Pelle Larsson said after the UA’s largest comeback win in more than 10 years:
Lloyd on his message to the team when down big early: “Just hang in there, we just got to start playing better basketball. It might be trying to make an adjustment or two, but you can’t just completely panic. You have to have a sense of urgency, it can’t just be oh, it’s business as usual. I thought we did a good job that last seven minutes of the first half just keeping ourselves. I think we had it nine and the half, right? Caleb had a layup that he’s gonna make most of the time that would have cut it to seven. We missed a few free throws. JB missed a couple of free throws, and he’s a good free throw shooter, so we could have been down four or five.”
On the slow start to the 2nd half: “Going down nine gave us a chance, and then you come out in the second half and you just don’t want to have a repeat and we did. We got to start these halves better.”
On the key to the comeback: “It just became knuckle down and maybe try to pick up the pressure a little bit, then offensively just I think we settled down a little bit and got a little more—I don’t know if methodical is the right word—but just a little more connected. Pelle was really good downhill. Caleb (Love) made a few good plays. And Oumar was able to catch and finish a few balls, and I think Kylan (Boswell) had a huge three, which is growth for him. Because I think the three he hit, I think he missed his first five, so for him to step up and do that. And then KJ (Lewis), KJ was back.”
On KJ Lewis: “KJ, what’s so much fun about coaching him is he, he solves problems, just with effort and energy and cutting. When the game maybe gets a little stagnant or you’re stuck somewhere he saves the play so many times. I think KJ helped us in every facet of the game. I thought he played awesome and I’m really proud of him, because it hasn’t been coming easy for him the past few games. He’s not scared. He’s got the clutch gene. And I mean I think all our guys have that it, to be honest with you. Maybe I got to try to put them in a little bit better positions to make them a little bit more confident in themselves, and I’ll do that.”
On if all the non-game stuff impacted Arizona early: “Hopefully not. We got to be more mature than that. When you play at Arizona. I mean, you’re gonna be on the big stage. And you can’t be bothered by that. I’m not going to account for that. First off we’re going to be very happy and thankful we won today. Mick had a heck of a game plan, his team was ready. They were more ready than we were. Luckily we were playing at home. Luckily they finally missed a few shots, and maybe our events had a little bit to do that, I don’t know. I’m just thankful for the results and I’m gonna get into the weeds tomorrow on this game.”
On Ballo’s free throw style: “We don’t need to get into the techniques. You guys can slice and dice that, I’m not going to get into the techniques of shooting and stuff like that with players. Free throws, they all looked good coming out of his hand to me.”
On what’s the key to Ballo improving: “It’s everything. It’s mental, it’s physical, it’s technical. It’s all everything. We could probably look at it 100 different directions. For this day, he solved it. And it was a huge difference in this game.”
On Ballo playing a season-high 34 minutes: “I thought he had great impact and we played him a lot in that second half. I need to start playing Krvias more. But O’s force, I really felt like we needed it. We needed it in that game. In a normal game where it’s a little closer, I probably some more freely. Today was just about getting a result. It was a program win, and we’re just going to chalk that one up to that.”
On Larsson: “A big part of the game is being aggressive, getting in the bonus. The bonus gives you a greater margin for error on possessions. I just thought Pelle found, whether it was a good matchup or just some good seams off ball movement that he was able to drive and he played really strong. We need that Pelle.”
On if he made adjustments after UCLA started 6 of 9 from 3-point range: “No. They have not been a good 3-point shooting team, and I’m sure some of those guys are better shooters than their percentages. We kind of game planned against them like everyone else has, you’re gonna kind of pack it in and give (Adem) Bona a lot of attention. And you know what, they came and they played free and easy today early in the game. Listen, they really put themselves in position to win that game. And like I said, we kind of are fortunate we’re playing at home.”
On if this win can pay dividends in March: “I hope so. I mean, you go through seasons and it’s cliche to say you’ve got ups and downs and things like that, but you have to dig deep. You have to learn how to take deep. Digging deep is a huge part of it, and I’m so proud of our guys. Guys care a lot for the University of Arizona. They care a lot for Tucson, they love playing and McKale. They honor the legacy of our former players, and I think you gotta call on all those things in those tough moments. We had Matt Othick speak to the team yesterday, how cool was that? Obviously he’s well-versed in this rivalry. So I think it’s really cool for our guys to be able to honor those former players and find a way to beat UCLA in the last time we’re going to play them in the Pac-12 at McKale.”
On the shot selection in the paint: “I feel like we finished a little bit better around the rim in the second half. First half I just looked at it and kind of shook my head again. I was like how many halves in a row are going to shoot under 40 percent? That’s just not who we are. There’s a law of averages, and we need to start trending on the upside of that average.”
On UCLA: “The rivalry games, you throw everything out the window. They have good players and they have a great coach. I don’t know what’s been going on, so it’s not my job to dissect it. But I know, when I’m preparing to play against a Mick Cronin-coached team, he’s one of the best coaches in the country. I know that, and’ve I played against him. You understand that going in, and and so I have a ton of respect for him and with what he’s done with those guys. They’re a little bit on the younger side, but you can see the last two weeks they’ve gotten a lot better, and hopefully they keep playing like that.”
On Boswell’s steal and 3-pointer during the comeback: “It was huge. I’d have to look exactly on the timesheet when that happened, but it was good. And right when it left his hand I knew it was in. You need some of those ... kind of those haymakers, a few of them to kind of get you back in the game and get you over the top. It was great by Kylan. I thought Kylan settled in and just played. Maybe in the first half, I got to figure some of our rotation stuff out. We’re trying some different things here and there, and that’s what you do over the course of a season, but I thought he looked really good. In control of that game in the second half.”
On defending Sebastian Mack: “Common sense would say, if a guy’s a driver and proficient at getting fouled, then maybe you go underneath some of his ball screens. And he made it. So we had to make some adjustments and we had to start playing more ... it just felt like one of those days where we started going over some and well now he gets downhill towards the end of that game. He’s a really good basketball player and he’s unique, and I was really impressed playing against him today.”
On what being able to make such a rally means: “We were down 19 in the first half, (17) the second half, I just think it shows you: hang in there, make that next play. Dig in. You don’t necessarily want your team to be in that position, but when you’re in that position you got to take advantage of it. Our guys did today and I think it was a great experience.”
On Mathurin’s pregame message to the team: “It was quick. It was his usual ‘kick their ass.’ He keeps it pretty simple.”
On if he’s spoken with Christian Koloko recently: “I haven’t. I don’t know the ins and outs of it, specifically as much as I should. But I love C-Lo. He’s one of my all-time favorites.”
Ballo on if this was his best game at Arizona: “I’ve been here three years, I’m sure I had bigger games, but it was special. I needed to make (the free throws), and I’m glad I got to make them. My teammates trust me, they believe in me, and they keep supporting me when I’m not making them. When you have a team like that, that believes in you 100 percent it gives you confidence.”
On his free throw shooting: “I’m working on it more every day, before practice and after practice. I changed my routine a little bit the last couple games and I’m going to stick with it. Just lean with one motion, don’t lean back.”
On playing against Adem Bona: “Bona is a great player. He’s tough, he’s physical. Sometimes he plays dirty, but that’s the beauty of his game, it’s not meant to be easy. You just have to be the last man standing.”
Larsson on the comeback: “It was a really gritty win, character win. We have things to do better, we shouldn’t be down like that at home. I think KJ was the difference-maker off the bench, he was awesome.”
On all the distractions: “Tommy said it, Arizona basketball is a show. Things like that are gonna happen, but it’s the same job for us at the end of the day.”
On facing UCLA: “I think everybody knows in this town that it’s been a rivalry for a long time, and we’re just glad we can honor the guys before us with a win.”
On Lloyd’s message at halftime: “Basically that it’s just a close game. You just got to keep getting stops and trust our offense.”
On getting four free throws to tie the game after a technical foul on UCLA: “I feel like free throws are the best shot that you can get on the court, so it was really good for offense that they got a technical foul.”
On feeling pressure at the line: “I’ve shot a couple free throws in this arena before, so I felt pretty good with the situation.”