Arizona figures to climb further in the Associated Press Top 25 when the new poll is released on Monday, thanks to the Wildcats’ two wins and a combined five losses by teams above them in the current rankings.
UA coach Tommy Lloyd isn’t nearly as thrilled as some fans figure to be about the Wildcats moving into the Top 5 for the first time in more than 4 years. In fact, it might be the worst thing for his team right now.
“As Nick Saban would say, rat poison,” Lloyd said after Arizona’s 82-64 home win over Utah on Saturday night. “It’s rat poison. This team is sitting around, everybody’s telling them how good they are. They got to understand what makes them good. What makes them good is when they’re edgy, they got a chip on their shoulder, they play incredibly hard, the attention to detail, they take care of the ball, and I feel like we’ve just slipped a little bit in those areas and we got to fight to get them back.”
Lloyd was arguably the most critical of his team he’s been this season, despite the UA (4-1, 4-0) having won its first four conference games by an average of 20 points for the first time since 1987-88. Some of that criticism was due to the performance against last-place Utah, which led for much of the first half, but also for recent off-the-court circumstances, most notably the situation that caused Arizona to be without point guard Kerr Kriisa.
Kriisa was sent home shortly before the game after suffering an unknown injury during the team’s pregame meal, the product of the sophomore and other players “horsing around,” according to Lloyd.
Lloyd said Kriisa’s injury isn’t significant and that he is expected to play on the upcoming 3-game road trip to Stanford, Cal and UCLA. But the fact he had to open his press conference explaining the sudden absence of a key piece of the team clearly upset Lloyd, who since the 2021-22 season has started has gone from playing coy about how good his squad could be to now being concerned about inflated egos.
“We’re not there yet,” he said. “I know a lot of people are trying to anoint us that we’re all this or all that. We’re not. We’re a young team that’s going through some growing pains and we’ve just happened to stack up some wins.”
Unranked to begin the season, and picked to finish in a tie for fourth in the Pac-12, Arizona is alone in first in the conference. But it’s also played the easiest league schedule of any team, per KenPom.com, its wins coming against teams projected to go a combined 28-49 in the Pac-12.
The road is about to get much tougher, and Lloyd anticipates his team having to face some more hurdles.
“We haven’t had a lot of experience having success and going on, stacking up these wins,” he said. “So we got to be mindful of that and understand that we’re just at the start of our journey. I got to be mindful of that to make sure that we’re doing the right things moving forward to build a long, standing culture that can handle ups and downs and in consistently win. That’s the goal.
“Having a great culture is tough. And winning and being consistently winning and playing at a championship level is tough. And we’re not there yet.”