TUCSON – Arizona Wildcats men’s basketball is currently one of the hottest basketball teams in the country and have played their way into contention for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
Coach Tommy Lloyd’s Wildcats couldn’t have picked a better time to round into form, with the Pac-12 Conference and NCAA tournaments looming in March.
On Saturday, the Wildcats rolled over Oregon State, 84-52, at McKale Memorial Center, extending their winning streak to six games and lifting the Wildcats to 21-3 overall, 10-3 in the Pac-12. Arizona is a half game behind league-leading UCLA in the conference race, but they’ve moved ahead of the Bruins in the national rankings.
While the streak has helped the Wildcats climb up to No. 4 in the most recent Association Press national rankings, the polls are secondary for Lloyd. He is still pushing for improvement during the season’s stretch run, despite a team that is playing like it can be among the best squads in the country.
“It’s the time of season where you want to really start growing your team,” Lloyd said after the Wildcats dispatched the Beavers. “I have been pretty mindful of that. We want to claw, and we want to get better. We really have been emphasizing that in practice.”
The improvements have shown, especially defensively. Freshman guard Kylan Boswell said locking down opponents has become a point of pride for the Wildcats.
“I don’t know if defense was our main thing at the beginning of the year,” Boswell said. “But now, coach has been preaching it. All the assistant coaches have been preaching it. We’ve taken it to heart.”
Over the six-game winning streak, opposing teams have shot a combined 37% from the field against the Wildcats and Lloyd believes that the team is hitting its stride on the defensive end.
“I think the guys have found themselves in a good groove defensively,” Lloyd said. “I think we have got an ability to be a really good defensive team.”
Another reason for the Wildcats to be optimistic is the recent play of junior forward Azuolas Tubelis, who is averaging 20.8 points and 9.5 rebounds a game while shooting 57.3%.
Tubelis posted monster games against the Oregon schools, totalling 40 points and nine rebounds in a win over the Oregon Ducks and 19 points with eight boards against the Beavers Saturday.
“He’s having an All-American type season,” said Lloyd, who came to Arizona in 2021 after a long tenure as an assistant at Gonzaga. “I’ve coached those guys, and he’s at that level. I think this guy is a first team All-American, and you have to convince me otherwise.”
Boswell agreed, although he put it in more blunt terms.
“He’s just a freak,” Boswell said. “I don’t really understand how he does what he does, but it’s very fun to watch and very fun to play with him.”
The Wildcats aim to extend their hot streak on an upcoming two-game road trip to the Bay Area. They visit California Thursday and Stanford on Saturday. The Bears and Cardinal rank near the bottom of the Pac-12 standings, but Lloyd understands that any conference victory on the road is huge – especially in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee’s members.
“You don’t ever take anything for granted on the road,” Lloyd said “Stanford seems to be playing extremely well right now, and we’re going in guns loaded.”