Four of Arizona’s first 11 games have been played away from home, with two of those in Las Vegas and the others at Oregon State and Illinois, so the Wildcats already have some experience playing on the road.
But now they’re about to embark on the program’s longest road trip in 14 seasons, with their next four scheduled games on opponents’ home courts.
The journey for No. 8 Arizona (11-0) starts Wednesday at No. 18 Tennessee (8-2), then after a short Christmas break it visits No. 4 UCLA (9-1) on Dec. 30 and No. 10 USC (12-0) on Jan. 2. The road trip ends Jan. 8 at ASU (5-6).
There’s an emphasis on the word scheduled considering the COVID-related issues that are popping up all over college basketball. Tennessee’s most recent game, against in-state rival Memphis, was canceled hours before tipoff on Saturday due to Memphis’ COVID issues, while UCLA canceled its last two games and USC called off its Tuesday game against Oklahoma State in Oklahoma City because of their COVID concerns within the Bruins’ and Trojans’ programs.
Assuming all those games go as scheduled, it will be the first time Arizona has played four consecutive true road games since January 2018 when it played at ASU, Houston, Stanford and Cal in an 11-day span and went 2-2.
“I think it’ll show who’s ready for adversity, who’s willing to give themselves and sacrifice just for the best of the team,” sophomore wing Benn Mathurin said of the road trip.
UA coach Tommy Lloyd, whose 11-0 start is tied for the best by a Pac-12 coach in 101 years, was unwilling to go look further than the Tennessee matchup when asked about going 24 days between home games following Saturday’s 84-60 win over Cal Baptist.
“Thanks for reminding me,” Lloyd joked. “I didn’t even know that, to be honest with you, because hey, I always tell you guys, Tennessee on Wednesday, and then Christmas, so I’m looking ahead to Christmas, but it’s not a game.”
Asked what the road trip can do for Arizona’s season, again Lloyd passed on looking too far ahead while also squashing any talk about the Wildcats playing for a perfect season.
“Regardless of what’s going to happen, our mindset has to be we’re going to be better for it,” he said.
“We’re not trying to go undefeated. Obviously you want to win every game but we know that that’s not realistic, it hasn’t been done since 1976. We just want to make sure that we’re staying locked in, and we have a growth mindset. I really want to just challenge the guys. We’ve had a couple of slow starts in a row. We got to start up better, we got to execute the plan better, and I think we’ve kind of to let our guard down a little bit with that, so hopefully we can tighten that up, because that’s you can’t be doing that on the road.”
Arizona has stumbled out of the gate in its last four games, trailing in the first half against each opponent including by 13 at Illinois and 11 against Cal Baptist before kicking things into high gear for the wins.
“We’ve just got to keep playing,” junior center Christian Koloko said. “We’ve just gotta start the game the right way, the way Coach wants.”