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With Purdue loss in rearview, Arizona men’s basketball sets sights on potent Alabama squad

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Arizona lost for just the 12th time in 81 games under Tommy Lloyd on Saturday, the first time this season. If the previous two years are any indication, the Wildcats should get back in the win column when they face Alabama in Phoenix on Wednesday night.

The UA has yet to lose consecutive games during the Lloyd era, and in the nine instances when it lost in the regular season it has won the following contest by an average of 14.4 points. All but one was by double digits.

“You don’t want to lose any games, so anytime you lose, you have like a little extra motivation for the next,” wing Pelle Larsson said Tuesday.

The 92-84 loss to Purdue in Indianapolis saw Arizona (8-1) get massively outrebounded early, allow far too many open shots from the perimeter and fell behind by as many as 17. It also saw the Wildcats claw back to within four points on several occasions in the second half.

“Everything’s a learning opportunity,” Lloyd said. “We played a really good team that played really well, and we obviously made some mistakes in areas we wish we could have done things a little bit better, but I think that’s every game. We’re not going to make too much of it, and it really doesn’t feel good, and we’re a program with high expectations and high standards. Losses are always tough, but we’ll be alright.”

Lloyd’s success immediately after a loss dates back to the tail end of his long tenure as a Gonzaga assistant. The last time he was on the bench for consecutive defeats was in December 2018 when the Bulldogs fell to Tennessee (in the same venue the UA will face Alabama) and six days later dropped a high-scoring game at North Carolina.

“The jury’s still out,” Lloyd said on how his team will respond to the Purdue loss. “No one’s been hanging their head. We practiced as normal and operated just like we would any other time of the year.”

Arizona allowed 92 points to Purdue, the most it has given up in regulation in a loss since 2010. The Wildcats gave up 93 to Cincinnati in a win last November in the Maui Invitational, and another high-scoring game seems likely in this one.

Alabama (6-4) averages 92.1 points per game, third-most in Division I, a tick behind second-place Arizona (92.9). The Crimson Tide have also yielded 85 or more five times this season, which explains why the over/under (174, according to DraftKings Sportsbook) is so high.

A third high-level game awaits this weekend in Las Vegas against No. 14 Florida Atlantic, and combined with the Dec. 9 blowout win over then-No. 23 Wisconsin will mark four consecutive games against teams that have been ranked at one point this season. Alabama was as high as No. 17 but has dropped four of six, all against power-conference teams, coming to Phoenix riding back-to-back losses to Purdue (in Toronto) and at Creighton.

“These December schedules kind of stack up like this sometimes,” Lloyd said. “TV wants it and it seems like people are more willing to schedule them this time of year. We want to see where we’re at. And by no means do we feel like we’re a finished product. Obviously we’re not invincible, so we want to go out and test ourselves.”

The players are always in favor of facing top competition rather than lesser opponents.

“It’s just more fun to play teams like that, that really challenge you,” Larsson said. “Alabama is a great team and a good challenge for us, so it’s just more fun to play better teams always.”

Wednesday’s game, which has a scheduled tip time of 9 p.m. MT, is the finale of a quadruple header at Footprint Center. The Jerry Colangelo’s Hall of Fame Series Phoenix also includes the UA women, who face Gonzaga at 2:30 p.m. MT, while the ASU women’s team faces Fresno State at 12 p.m. MT and the ASU men take on Northwestern at 6:30 p.m. MT.

“I think it’s really cool that we’re coming together for the state of Arizona for high-level Division I basketball, and all four teams are playing in (the) Phoenix Suns’ arena on the same day,” Lloyd said. “I think that’s really cool. I hope other people in the state of Arizona think it’s a big deal and are coming out to support all our teams. If you’re a basketball junkie, and you love men’s and women’s basketball, you get to come out and watch four games tomorrow.”