SAN DIEGO—The games only get harder from here.
That was Tommy Lloyd’s message to the Arizona Wildcats after beating Wright State on Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, setting up a second-round clash with the TCU Horned Frogs on Sunday night at Viejas Arena. It was a message he also reiterated after defending national champion—and fellow No. 1 seed—Baylor lost to North Carolina earlier Saturday.
“I told them, hey, the first game is tough (but) the second game is tougher,” Lloyd said. “That’s how these tournaments are. TCU has our full attention. We understand if we don’t do the things we need to do, we might not be successful.”
No. 9 TCU (21-12) is coming off its first NCAA tourney win since 1987, blowing out No. 8 Seton Hall by 27. The Horned Frogs are seeking the program’s fifth trip to the Sweet 16, first since 1968, while Arizona (32-3) is looking for its first since 2017 and 20th overall.
Here’s what to watch for when the UA, which according to DraftKings Sportsbook is favored by 9.5 points, and TCU play for the first time sine 1952:
A physical matchup
TCU is ranked 15th in defensive efficiency, per KenPom.com, five spots better than Arizona, and just held Seton Hall to 42 points and 0.65 points per possession. Lloyd said the Horned Frogs employ a “no-middle, try-to-keep-you-on-the-side defense, and they’re good at it,” noting that most of the Big 12 has moved that direction and that Tennessee did the same in beating the Wildcats in December.
“And then on top of that they’re extremely physical,” Lloyd said. “They’re a great rebounding team. That’s always been a trademark of Jamie’s teams.”
TCU is the No. 1 offensive rebounding team in the country, pulling down 37.8 percent of its misses, while Arizona is 16th at 34.6 percent. The Frogs are also in the top 100 in defensive rebounding.
“We’re not winning unless we outrebound them,” TCU coach Jamie Dixon said.
UCLA and Colorado—at least in Boulder—were the most physical teams Arizona faced in Pac-12 play, but they did so with a different approach on defense.
“No one’s playing as committed to the no-middle stuff in the Pac-12 as these guys are,” Lloyd said. “The first thing you’ve got to be strong with the ball. And you’ve got to play with a thrust and play with our normal pace and movement that we do. And then you’ve got to trust your fundamentals. You’ve got to lock in, play with your feet on the ground, mix in some back cuts, pass fake. I tell our guys, play good basketball. That’s what we’ve got to do.
“And hey, we’re a physical team, too. And I don’t want people to mistake us scoring a lot of points for not being physical. We take great pride in being able to battle physically. And obviously tomorrow presents a great test.”
Dalen Terry revenge game?
Dalen Terry is coming off back-to-back career-highs in scoring, going for 16 against Wright State after scoring 15 in the Pac-12 title game against UCLA. He’s embraced a more involved scoring role with Kerr Kriisa missing the last three games, and it’s producing results.
And just in case he needs a little extra motivation for the TCU game, he can remember that the opposing coach didn’t pick him for Team USA last summer.
“I was a little hot about it,” Terry said of being cut from tryouts for the FIBA U-19 World Cup and playing for Dixon, who led that squad to a gold medal in Latvia. “But it was a good experience. USA U19, just to be on that list, I was thankful for even being on there.
Dixon said a committee selects the final roster—“ultimately it wasn’t my decision,” he said—but that it was tough not being able to keep all the talent he worked with.
“It’s a challenge,” Dixon said. “I guess you’re trying to start some controversy, but I’m not going to fall in the trap. We’re going to respect every guy out there. They have a committee, and they do that for people like you to protect us. (Terry) is talented, athletic.”
More crowd energy?
Viejas Arena announced a sellout crowd of more than 11,000 for Arizona’s first-round game, but at the opening tip and for a good part of the first half there were a lot of empty seats. It was the result of the NCAA clearing out the venue in between tournament sessions, then letting fans in not long before the UA/Wright State game was to begun.
Combine that with long lines at the entrances, thanks to security checkpoints, and many Wildcat fans missed a good chunk of the game. Lloyd called it “weird” that the arena was only 33 percent full at the beginning, and questioned why there wasn’t a large enough gap between games to ensure a full crowd for the start.
He also called out Arizona’s fans who did attend the game, saying they lacked energy. On multiple occasions during the contest he turned to the UA sections behind his bench and implored them to get up and get loud.
“The environment better be great,” he said. “You try to have a great regular season, a conference season to set yourself up to get a good seed. If you get a good seed you’re close to home. And this is supposed to be a great, advantageous thing for us. And yesterday we didn’t feel it.
“Listen, I know we’ve got a great fan base and I know some will take it personal, but they’ve got to be better tomorrow. They’ve got to bring it tomorrow, as fans. Our fans have got to be better. And you know what? The fans that are lucky enough to have tickets to this and financially be able to afford it, they need to get out of the seats tomorrow and bring it. They need to help us advance. That’s my message to them: Don’t sit back and wait; help us.”
Toned down turnovers
Arizona turned it over 19 times against Wright State, three shy of its school tourney record set in the 1997 Elite Eight overtime win over Providence. Nearly all of those were unforced errors, but the Raiders didn’t take advantage much by only scoring eight points of the UA miscues.
TCU scored 15 points off 16 Seton Hall turnovers, and for the season force a turnover on 18.6 percent of opponent possessions. That’s slightly higher than Arizona’s 18.2 percent turnover rate on offense.
The Frogs are even worse with the ball, giving it away 21.5 percent of the time, better than only one other NCAA tourney team (Memphis, 22.9 percent).
Turnovers have been an on-again, off-again thing for Arizona this season, so this isn’t a new issue. Nor is it one that the Wildcats seem to be too worried about.
“That’s behind us,” Terry said. “Turnovers happen. They happen. We were just playing a little out of control sometimes. But obviously we got the dub. It’s something we need to worry about for a little bit but we’re not going to lose no sleep over it obviously. We’ve got to clean it up if we want to keep winning these games. It is just what it is. We’ve got to get better.”