Arizona is Pac-12 champions, locking up the regular season title for the first time since 2018 with an impressive 91-71 win at No. 16 USC on Tuesday night. It was also an historic performance for the second-ranked Wildcats, who did something that hadn’t been accomplished in more than 41 years:
Tonight @ArizonaMBB played at 25-4 USC and won by 20.— Stats By STATS (@StatsBySTATS) March 2, 2022
They're the first Division I team to beat a 25-win team on the road by 20+ points since March 7, 1981, when Arizona State won at undefeated (26-0) and top-ranked Oregon State, 87-67.
Our full recap can be found here. Below is what coach Tommy Lloyd said during a postgame radio interview and what he, Justin Kier and Bennedict Mathurin had to say to reporters about the win:
Lloyd on winning a conference title in his first season: “I’m so proud of the guys, just for them to take me in as their coach and just assimilate so quick and believe so quick, it’s been a lot of fun.”
On bouncing back from the Colorado loss: “Listen, I’m not taking any credit, but I just told them, last time we lost at UCLA, it took us a half to kind of get it through our system when we played Arizona State. So I told the guys, there’s no time for that right now. We’ve lost, we know what it feels like. Boom, move on. And the guys did a great job. We needed to be aggressive tonight, we needed to play loose and free and play with a smile, a joy, just the competitive grit that you need this time of year.
“It’s March, and we had an opportunity. You have to go grab opportunities in March, and and our guys did a great job of that. We played a good Colorado team that kind of put us in our place on Saturday and we got home and had lick our wounds a little bit, and it was great to be back out on the court on Tuesday. We were hungry and we needed this, and it was a great atmosphere, and then our guys obviously rose to the occasion.”
On reacting to the physicality of the Colorado game: “I just told our guys, this what you do this time of year. I mean, that’s how games are gonna be called. And when you play a high level college basketball game, the other team’s gonna play really hard. They’re gonna have a good coach and a plan. They have good players and it’s going to be physical. So you need to understand that, you can’t be annoyed by it, and guys embraced that.”
On wrapping up the title before the final weekend: “I just had a sneaky suspicion, and I probably created a self-fulfilling prophecy. I thought we were either gonna play really good at Colorado and not good here or vice versa. So it turned out this was exactly what we needed, to come in and win the conference championship on the road. Basically securing it outright was pretty special.”
On staying loose despite a title being up for grabs: “You stick to the plan. And our plan works, and I believe in it and I have a conviction with it. I talked to the guys a little bit. Part of it is just explaining them what it’s like to be here. I’ve been lucky, I’ve been with a program that’s been here a lot. And coach Rob has been here a lot. You talk to the guys what it takes to win and what it feels like.
“When you’re playing in the regular season, you don’t want to put all or nothing on a single game and I wasn’t today. SC is a formidable opponent, and if they beat us today, we had to go home and win two games. I mean, that was the plan. To get it done here today is pretty special. But the reward we get is we get Stanford on Thursday.”
On the balanced and efficient start: “The defense got our offense going, which is a lot of times the case. We did a really good job of being pretty controlled, taking good shots and kind of working for good shots. Defensively, we were active, they throw some junk passes and some high-risk stuff and like to dump the ball down, and our guys took the game plan and sat on it and made plays and it allowed us to get a few runs that kind of opened that game up, and we had our heads up and they had their heads down.
On extending the lead after halftime: “There’s a lot of ways to win the game, but there’s nothing wrong with having a 20-point lead at half, because the other team inevitably is gonna have that run, and to be able to withstand it, and then we came out and we extended it, which was great at the start of the second half.”
On the bench play: “Justin (Kier) was great. And Oumar (Ballo) was great. Pelle (Larsson) had some foul issues but had some good moments. Just Justin and Oumar’s response, when we had foul trouble, to be able to come in and not only plug the gap but make us play better, it was really cool. When we have high energy Oumar it is pretty special. He caught those lobs today, dunked some of those things and sent a message.”
On celebrating the championship: “We can celebrate in the offseason, but we still got work to do. We’re gonna look to get better, and can’t wait to get home and have a great weekend at McKale. I got that coaching disease, got a game on Thursday. I’ll be watching film of Stanford on the plane home.”
Kier on winning the regular season title: “This is what we worked hard for. This is why I know guys came here, I know why guys came back. It’s for this reason. We’re really happy, for everybody. We’re really happy for the coaching staff and for us as players. This is a special team, so it just hits different when you’re so close, and a lot of guys ain’t gonna be here next year.”
On bouncing back from the Colorado game: “We wanted to get another game under our belt. We wanted to win that game as well. We just came in here prepared like we always, play our game regardless of anything, and continue to play Arizona men’s basketball. We were eager to come get a win. We got two more games left to finish off this thing, so we’re gonna continue to prepare for that, but this is pretty sweet moment.”
Mathurin on bouncing back: “We just came here and we had a plan and we have to respect the plan and in order for us to get back home with the win.”
On Kier’s play: “Justin made a pretty good adjustment and made a really big impact. I’m really proud of him for doing that, stepping up his game when we needed him.”