Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, ...
The Arizona Wildcats are not perfect. While capable of greatness, they have also shown an ability to play down to their competition and get beat by teams that, well, shouldn’t beat them.
Easily one of the strangest things about their performance this season, which confounds bracketologists—but not the selection committee, apparently, which currently has Arizona as a No. 2 seed out West—is that the Cats are a perfect 5-0 against ranked opponents while their four losses have come to teams with a combined 56-55 record.
Only one of the losses, the most recent to Stanford, was within single digits (nine) and none of the quartet Utah, Oregon, Washington State or Stanford is expected to so much as sniff the NCAA Tournament.
It doesn’t really make sense, until you look at the entirety of college basketball this season and realize everyone has lost games they shouldn’t.
At any rate, while losing is no fun at this point in the season, the important thing is learning from the defeats. What went wrong? What could be improved? What issue did the opponent find and exploit?
Sometimes it’s as simple as the opponent played its best game on a day where you played one of your worst. But even still, something allowed for that to happen and it’s imperative to figure out what.
The best way to show growth is to not let it happen again, which is something Arizona has been quite good at under Tommy Lloyd. The Wildcats have yet to lose consecutive games, and the coach has also not seen his team lose to an opponent twice in a season.
A Dec. 1 loss to Utah was avenged in February, a Jan. 7 home defeat to Washington State was made up for later that month on the road and a Jan. 14 blowout at the hands of the Oregon Ducks saw the favor returned with a 91-76 victory just a few weeks later.
You can even go back to last season if you’d like. Arizona lost a close game to Tennessee, but knocked off the Volunteers this season. It also paid back losses at UCLA and Colorado.
Now, Arizona beating teams it is better than should not come as a surprise, certainly not one at the level of the Wildcats actually losing to said opponents. But there is something to be said for the ability to bounce back, so to speak, and not let one loss impact the next game.
Getting a bit of revenge is nice, too.
Now, this in some ways likely shows a bit of the team’s immaturity. It should not take losing a game to be motivated enough to play hard and win the next one. Yet, these are college students and though they are talented, there is enough parity throughout the country to where a slight lack of focus could easily become one’s undoing.
And further, now that Arizona vanquished Utah there are no more teams left that Arizona needs to pay back for a loss. Not in the regular season, not in the Pac-12 Tournament and not in the NCAA Tournament. Every team the Wildcats could play from now until the end of their season will be one they have either already beaten or have yet to face.
Granted Arizona should not need any kind of motivation to win games that, if lost, would represent the final game of the season. Even still, Arizona has also shown an impressive ability to not only beat teams in their only meeting, but beat good teams.
And also Colorado.
Tennessee, Indiana, Creighton and San Diego are all ranked, and all fell to the Cats when they met earlier this season. Maybe the Cats won’t see any of them again, but it’s important to note that each offers a different style of play and Arizona was able to solve whatever was thrown at them with whatever amount of time to prepare they were afforded.
Now 28 games into the season, you’d hope that we finally have an idea of what this team is capable of. At their best, the Wildcats are among a handful of teams that should be viewed as a favorite to cut down some nets. At their worst, they’re capable of losing to teams whose only interaction with nets over the next couple of months would be of the fishing variety.
Sorry, that’s the best I could think of.
Anyway, while it would be great to have watched Arizona dominate its competition every night, much can be gained from struggling. It can even happen during a game, like the on Saturday where Arizona got off to a slow start before settling in and beating Colorado.
“We obviously got to play better,” Lloyd said after the game when talking about being a projected 2-seed. “At the end of the day, it’s just about getting better.
“If you stub your toe, you’re gonna be quick to fall. So, let’s hope we can learn from some of these games, continue to get better and then come Selection Sunday, we’ll see where we end up.”
Given what we’ve seen from the Cats under with Lloyd at the helm, the ability to learn is one of his team’s most valuable attributes.