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Home weekend gives Arizona men’s basketball chance to build momentum for stretch run

arizona-wildcats-mens-basketball-preview-cal-golden-bears-stanford-cardinal-tommy-lloyd-pac12-2024 Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

At 15-5 overall and 6-3 in the Pac-12, Arizona is tied for first in the conference and ranked No. 11 in the country. The Wildcats were picked to win the league back in October, and they began the year 12th in the preseason poll.

In other words, the UA is about right where it was expected to be.

“I think this team is ready to take the next steps,” coach Tommy Lloyd said Wednesday. “But me thinking they’re ready and us actually doing it are two different things.”

That second line from Lloyd extends from the uncertainty that has come from a 6-week stretch where the Wildcats have gone 7-5 and haven’t won more than two consecutive games. That matches the longest streak without a streak of three or more wins since the 2019-20 season.

The UA is back home this weekend, and thanks to its 87-78 win at Oregon last Saturday has a chance to put together a run with Cal and Stanford coming to McKale Center.

“I don’t think we need to overthink it, I think we need to play better,” Lloyd said. “We got to be better in those moments and make sure that we’re doing the things necessary to win, whether it’s home or on the road. And so that’s our focus. Now the coaching staff has to lead the players and the players have to help lead themselves and then we need to get moving forward.”

Lloyd said he believes Arizona is better now than it was at the beginning of the season, though he understands why others may not believe that following recent road losses to Stanford, Washington State and Oregon State.

“We’re better now because of what we’ve been through, the good things and the bad things, and you just gotta continue to build,” he said.

Lloyd singled out guard Kylan Boswell, who had 14 points against Oregon after scoring 14 in the previous four. Boswell is averaging 7.0 points and shooting 31.4 percent from the field in Pac-12 play, a major statistical slide from the 13.8 points and 60 percent shooting (68.2 percent from 3) during the first five games of the season, yet Lloyd still thinks the sophomore has improved over time.

“Kylan is a better player now than he was before the Duke game because of his experiences,” Lloyd said. “It may not look like that or feel like it every day, but he is. Now you just hope these guys hang with it, keep their confidence high. And if you’re able to do those things, the growth will show.”

Cal (8-12, 4-5) is Arizona’s 10th conference opponent, but the first it has already faced. The Wildcats opened the league schedule with a 100-81 win in Berkeley on Dec. 29, jumping on the Golden Bears early and leading by more than 30 late in the half.

Since then, though, the UA is 5-3 and Cal is 4-4 and most recently beat both Stanford and WSU.

“Other teams get better, too,” Lloyd said. “Things change and evolve over the course of the season. It looks like to me they’re playing really well.”

Junior wing Jaylon Tyson leads the Pac-12 in scoring (20.7 points per game) and 6th-year center Fardaws Aimaq leads the conference in rebounding (10.8).

Arizona is 10-0 at home, winning by an average of 21.8 points in Pac-12 play at McKale, and KenPom.com projects lopsided victories both Thursday and Sunday. That means this could be the last weekend Lloyd can tinker with his rotations, and possibly go deeper into the bench in meaningful minutes, though he doesn’t see the starting lineup getting changed unless it has to.

The UA has started the same five all 20 games, four more than any lineup used in 2022-23, while in his first season he used one quintet in 29 of 37 games.

“Your mind is always kind of go to places, like how can we be harder to play against,” he said. “But if your team stays healthy, you probably don’t have to make a ton of lineup adjustments. That’s probably the biggest catalyst for changing lineups would be an injury or something like that.”