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Arizona men’s basketball ready to tackle tough December after long layoff

Saturday’s game vs. Colgate starts a run of 5 in a row against potential NCAA Tournament teams to end nonconference play

arizona-wildcats-mens-basketball-colgate-december-nonconference-schedule-kylan-boswell-tommy-lloyd Zachary BonDurant-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona played six games in 18 days to start the 2023-24 season, winning them all, including signature victories over ranked Duke and Michigan State teams. Now the Wildcats are in the middle of a stretch where they have one game in 15 days, that coming Saturday at home against Colgate.

The UA hasn’t played since beating MSU 74-68 in Palm Springs on Thanksgiving, and it’s unclear what impact that extended break will have on a team that shot up to No. 2 in the latest Associated Press Top 25.

“I’ll let you know at the first media timeout,” UA coach Tommy Lloyd joked Thursday.

Arizona had a similar break at this point in the schedule a year ago, following a dominant run to the Maui Invitational title. Then reality set in on Dec. 1 when it lost 81-66 at Utah.

Sophomore Kylan Boswell doesn’t expect the same thing to happen, not based on how he’s seen the current UA term perform on the court and gel off it.

“Last year I feel like the culture could have been better,” he said.

Colgate marks the start of a 5-game run in December against teams expected to make the NCAA Tournament. The Raiders (4-3) have made the last four NCAA tourneys under coach Matt Langel, winning 26 games last season, and they’re the overwhelming favorite to win the Patriot League for the fifth time in six years.

The next two games in December also come with weeklong breaks, with Arizona hosting Wisconsin on Dec. 9 and then facing No. 1 Purdue in Indianapolis on Dec. 16. The non-league slate finishes with a Dec. 20 clash against No. 23 Alabama in Phoenix and Dec. 23 in Las Vegas against No. 13 Florida Atlantic.

“We play Saturday afternoon, the ball is going to be tipped, you got to be ready to go for 40 minutes,” Lloyd said. “I don’t care if you haven’t played in nine days or you played the night before. So that’s got to be the approach. Overall it’s kind of nice to get a break a little bit from maybe the game pressure and to kind of clean some things up.

“I just know this: our December schedule is awesome. I think that’s the challenge this group needs. No bold predictions. I mean,there’s a chance, probably a good chance we don’t get through it unscathed. But I think that it’s all going to be good things for us. And I’m excited just to kind of take it week by week.”

Langel is in his 13th season at Colgate, and after losing records his first six years he’s averaged more than 20 wins the past six. The last two Raiders teams have won at Syracuse and they’ve been consistently a top-150 team in KenPom while avoiding being a mid-major that’s fallen victim to the NCAA transfer portal.

“It just shows me that they have a great culture,” Lloyd said of Colgate. “Guys are for one probably valuing their education experience, which should be important to college. And two, they probably have a healthy basketball culture where guys like really value being part of a team and love their teammates.”

Arizona has won 24 consecutive nonconference home games, the last loss coming against Gonzaga (and Lloyd) in 2019. Under Lloyd the Wildcats have won those games by an average of 36 points, often quickly dismissing any chance for those upstart opponents to pull off an upset.

“Every time those teams come in here, Coach always says it’s their championship game,” Boswell said. “If we’re coming in underestimating them, we’re not at our full attention, giving them our full respect, they could easily shock us.”