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Guard play at center of recent struggles for Arizona men’s basketball

arizona-wildcats-mens-basketball-stanford-purdue-fau-guards-defense-2024-pac12-tommy-lloyd Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

When it crashed and burned in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last season, among the issues cited for Arizona was the lack of a killer instinct, particularly from the backcourt. Tommy Lloyd addressed that concern, adding three players from the transfer portal with tourney experience including two that had appeared in the national championship game.

The Wildcat guards have some much more aggression on offense this season, with Caleb Love settling into the role as go-to scorer and the others establishing their roles with the ball.

But it’s when the other team is dribbling, passing and shooting that those same players have been the problem.

“Our guards have been getting their asses kicked in these games defensively,” UA coach Tommy Lloyd told Bruce Pascoe of the Arizona Daily Star after Sunday’s 100-82 loss at Stanford.

Stanford made a school record 16 3-pointers, needing only 25 shots to get there, and had an effective field goal percentage of 71. That’s by far the worst of the Lloyd era and 4th-worst since started tracking the metric in 1999.

Not what you’d expect from a team that was second in adjusted defensive efficiency before the Stanford game. The Wildcats are now seventh, but Lloyd called that “an absolute lie” and the raw numbers back up that assertion.

Arizona is allowing 73.4 points per game on 42.3 percent shooting, but in the last five games—none at home—the Wildcats have yielded 88.6 per game and opponents are shooting 47.3 percent. Stanford was the fourth opponent this season to make 10 or more 3s and shoot over 40 percent, and for the year the UA has dropped to 226th out 362 Division I teams in 3-point field goal defense.

Everyone on Arizona has a defensive rating below 100, meaning when that player is on the court the opponent averages less than 100 points per 100 possessions. However, against Stanford the starting backcourt of Love, Kylan Boswell and Pelle Larsson had ratings of 129.1, 148.8 and 110.6, respectively, while reserve guards Jaden Bradley (137.2) and KJ Lewis (124.5) were equally bad.

Boswell was the only one of that quintet with a defensive rating under 110 in the double-overtime loss to Florida Atlantic in Las Vegas, and when falling to Purdue on Dec. 16 four of the five were over 120.

The UA guards not named Love haven’t been particularly efficient on offense of late, either. Most glaringly has been the play of sophomore Kylan Boswell, who was 2 for 11 at Stanford and in the last five games is shooting 31.5 percent overall and 22.2 percent from 3.

The next few days will be critical for Arizona to figure out what changes need to be made, because this weekend won’t be easy. Colorado and Utah both swept the Washington schools at home, and Colorado comes in ranked seventh in the country in 3-point shooting (40.7 percent) while Utah (38.9) is 14th and has a 7-footer in Branden Carlson who is shooting 40 percent from 3 and made a career-best five triples in the upset of the UA last December.

“For sure it makes practice a lot different,” Lewis said. “We got to do a better job of taking the scout and the preparation a lot better. We just got to be locked in on all cylinders. We’re all gonna get together as a group and figure things out.”