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Bounceback Cats: Arizona men’s basketball has responded well to losses under Tommy Lloyd

arizona-wildcats-mens-basketball-loss-stanford-tommy-lloyd-response-pac12-oumar-ballo-utah-utes-2023 Photo by Christopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The worst thing about Arizona losing at Stanford last Saturday was, well, the scoreboard. Or maybe the massive overreaction by UA fans on social media and in message boards to a conference road loss in a league where home teams win nearly 65 percent of the time.

The best thing? It may mean the Wildcats (22-4, 11-4 Pac-12) are set for one of their best performances on Thursday night when they host Utah.

“The one thing I’ll say about this team is every time we’ve stubbed our toe, we’ve really responded,” coach Tommy Lloyd after the Stanford game. “That’s what I’m looking forward to, rolling up our sleeves, getting back to work and getting back out on that court.”

The numbers back up Lloyd’s statement. Under his guidance, every regular-season loss—there’s only been six others—has been followed up by a win, and a convincing one. Arizona has won its six post-loss games by an average of 14.5 points, all by at least 11.

Nowhere was this more evident than last February when, after losing by 16 at Colorado, three days later the Wildcats blew out USC by 20 on the road to clinch the Pac-12 regular-season title.

Not surprisingly, this is a trend that followed Lloyd from Gonzaga, which didn’t lose consecutively during the final 91 games he was an assistant there. And the average margin of victory after the few setbacks was 34.5 points.

“After a loss our team always takes a huge step forward,” center Oumar Ballo said. “Hopefully we’ll do the same thing this week. Losing is a part of basketball, it’s a part of the game. For us, it just teaches us a lot, because I feel like when we lose we learn a lot. I was watching the (Stanford) game for myself and I was like, oh man, so there’s so much room for me to get better.”

Stanford switched on all ball screens, selling out to keep Ballo and Azuolas Tubelis from having their usual impact. It worked, with that duo combining for only 12 points and just seven shot attempts. That approach certainly played a role in the outcome, but Lloyd said the main reasons for that (and each previous) loss is more simple.

“I feel like when we’ve lost we haven’t played very well,” he said. “I’m sure the opponent has something to do with that. I’m sure we have something to do with that. We got to kind of reinforce our habits and we got to play better. And that’s where the response comes in.

“You hope you refocus. You tighten things up and you get better from it. That’s ultimately what what you need to do, and there’s no guarantee that’s going to happen. But traditionally, these guys have been able to respond. And this is an another opportunity for them to do that.”

Lloyd was quick to take responsibility for his role in the loss, too, admitting that he made the scouting report for Stanford more complicated than it needed to be.

“I’m wearing this loss, too,” he said. “The players obviously have to hold up their end of the bargain, and we’ve all talked about that, but I’m wearing it, too. I didn’t feel like I was at my best on Saturday. That’s something that hits home to me. I always want to put our team in the best position possible to win. It probably wasn’t my best effort, either.”