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Late-game struggles have been a season-long problem for Arizona men’s basketball

arizona-wildcats-mens-basketball-turnovers-asu-comebacks-tommy-lloyd-struggle-pac12-2023 Zachary BonDurant-USA TODAY Sports

Coffee is for closers, but what about Wildcats?

Arizona’s heartbreaking last-second loss to ASU on Saturday ended on a buzzer beater, but the foundation of that setback was laid in the time leading up to that final play, as the Wildcats blew a 10-point lead with 6:30 remaining.

“That’s closing time,” UA coach Tommy Lloyd said Tuesday. “Under that 6-minute mark, we had a couple of questionable shots and a couple of regretful turnovers and those things happen, so we got to try to fix those.”

That’s the largest lead the UA has squandered under Lloyd in a loss, topping the 9-point advantage it had during the loss two weeks ago at Stanford. Prior to that, Arizona had never lost a game under Lloyd in which it led at any point by eight or more points.

The UA managed only one field goal for the final seven minutes, turned it over four times in the last 5:54 and missed two of four free throws down the stretch. All of those numbers are concerning, and they point to a fairly frequent late-game trend.

Arizona (24-5, 13-5 Pac-12) has outscored its opponents by 351 points this season, an average of 12.1 per game, but in the final five minutes of play it has outscored them by just 16 points. That includes plenty of garbage time and ends of games where the outcome was never in doubt, but break it down further and the Wildcats have a closing problem.

Arizona has been outscored by 31 points in the final five minutes of games decided by single digits, with ASU outscoring them 17-8 on Saturday. That was the seventh time this season the UA has been outscored by five or more points over the last five minutes.

Turnovers have played a big role in Arizona’s inability to finish off an opponent. The Wildcats average 13.45 giveaways per game, and 11.5 percent of their turnovers come in the final five minutes.

In single-digit outcomes, that percentage climbs to 16.1. The UA had three turnovers in the last five minutes of the ASU loss, after turning it over only twice the first 15 minutes of the second half with just 13 for the game.

There are six instances this season in which Arizona has had more than 20 percent of its turnovers in the final five minutes. All have been since mid-January and the last four contests all fall in that category.

Some of the late-game issues have to be attributed to how opponents ramp up their intensity to try to come back, particularly when it comes to pressing in the backcourt. But some of it also may be Arizona pumping the brakes on its up-tempo offense in order to reduce the number of possessions.

Lloyd doesn’t want that to be the case, however.

“I don’t know if we’re ever playing protect or prevent defense, and I’m never really asking our guys are slowing down,” he said. “I’m just asking them to make good decisions. When you play fast, you have to play with great fundamentals and make great decisions and take care of the ball. And for the most part we do that in long stretches of the game.”