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Team basketball is key to Arizona getting on a roll as regular season winds down

arizona-mens-basketball-tommy-lloyd-oumar-ballo-kj-lewis-oregon-cal-pac-12-stanford Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

Arizona men’s basketball has been on a rollercoaster since New Year’s Eve, when it lost by 18 at Stanford. But now that the calendar has turned to February the Wildcats look like they’re starting to play as a unit once again.

“It’s time to start playing consistently really good basketball,and I told our guys, that’s what you do,” Tommy Lloyd said following Thursday’s win over Cal, the UA’s second in a row and fourth in the last five. “ In February you’re building, and you’re building for March and then hopefully building for April. That has to be the mindset. I think our guys are starting to settle in and then kind of recalibrate a little bit. I thought they had a really mature approach tonight.”

Arizona averages the most assists in the Pac-12 (18.8) but in its three conference losses only averaged 11 assists. The last two games, against Cal and at Oregon, the average is back up to 18.

The uptick in assists has also been because Oumar Ballo has been efficient on the floor, against Oregon and Cal. Over the 2-game stretch he has averaged 16 points, 11 rebounds and shot 75 percent from the field in only 21 minutes per game. In the win against Cal, Ballo had his highest scoring game ever in McKale scoring 22 points, 13 rebounds and eight-of-eight from the field in 22 minutes of playing time.

“When Oumar (Ballo) plays with the effort and energy he has the past couple games,” Tommy Lloyd said. “We’re a different team.”

Arizona is also a different team when its playmakers aren’t forcing and allowing the game to come to them. KJ Lewis was not scoring the ball at a high rate against Oregon, only going 1 of 3 from the field but impacted the game defensively with four steals.

“Just trying to find different ways to impact it,” Lewis said. “Whether it’s on the defensive end, making plays for my teammates, rebounding,. Just doing anything to bring a spark off the bench and get things going on. I think that’s my job just to come in with effort and energy. Hopefully it goes to the whole team.”

Lewis heard Lloyd’s message loud and clear about it being February and the team having to come together to build onto the future.

“I feel like we are getting that rhythm back that we had in the beginning, we are getting our joy back,” Lewis said. “That competitive nature back again. It’s February, it’s time to kick things up a notch and I think we’re starting to do that.”