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Here I was, thinking I wouldn’t have to write about a loss all basketball season.
Oh well. The Arizona Wildcats’ path to perfect hit a Purdue pothole on Saturday in Indianapolis, the Boilermakers’ home away from home. It’s fine. It’ll be OK.
The top-ranked Wildcats fell 92-84, smothered not so much by 7-foot-4 Zach Edey, the reigning national player of the year, but by a pair of guards who decided to borrow Sam Dekker’s daggers and stab Arizona with a barrage of outside shots.
So, Tommy Lloyd’s guys go into a busy week before Christmas with an 8-1 record, not 9-0, and the Wildcats’ stay at No. 1 will last only two weeks.
“I love this team we have,” Lloyd said after the game. “I love all these guys and I can’t wait to hop on the plane and get home and prepare for a really good Alabama team on Wednesday.”
Purdue’s Fletcher Loyer tied his career-high with 27 points. Braden Smith scored 26. They combined to make 20 of 33 shots, including 9 of 16 3-pointers. Really, guys?
Play enough high-quality teams, and you’re eventually going to run into one that plays out of their minds while you’re stuck on your “B” game. That’s what makes the NCAA Tournament such a wonderful, delightful, unpredictable crapshoot. It takes great play and a lot of luck. Being in the right place at the right time and all that.
Saturday in Indianapolis was the not the time and place for the Cats.
That’s why this loss feels only like a “the other team just played better today” kind of setback rather than one of those “OH MY GOD, WE GOT EXPOSED” defeats.
That was my initial reaction right after the game, and I decided to sleep on it to see if I would feel differently in the morning. Let’s just say, I didn’t lose any sleep over this one.
There were certainly some performances, some decisions, that you might like to have back, but Arizona went into the showdown looking like a contender for the national championship, and it left that way, too.
Ask yourself: Would you want to see Purdue again deep in the NCAA Tournament on a true neutral court, or even in, say, Glendale, Ariz.?
That would be OK with me.
It’s all about the lessons learned until then, and here was one: Arizona’s initial strategy of dropping down with a guard to help on Edey did not work, allowing Loyer and Smith the opportunity to go off.
“I might have complicated things a little bit too much for our guys and made them make too many decisions and we missed a few coverages that we can get better at,” Lloyd said.
Lloyd switched to a zone in the second half that prevented Purdue from making a basket for 8 1/2 minutes as the Wildcats trimmed a 15-point deficit to four on four occasions.
“They’re obviously very well organized and very good players, and they were kind of torturing our man-to-man defense a little bit,” Lloyd said. “So I wanted to see if we can make an adjustment and for the most part it went well.”
At least it’s good to know that the Wildcats have been practicing that zone defense and has it in their back pocket for emergencies.
For sure, point guard Kylan Boswell did not play his best (six points, 0-for-4 from behind the arc). Pelle Larsson committed five turnovers. The bench combined for two points in 40 minutes. In the final 10 minutes, didn’t seem like anybody other than Caleb Love (29 points) and Keshad Johnson (24 points) wanted to take charge.
Purdue simply played better on this particular day. It wasn’t anything like the Wildcats’ win over Wisconsin.
Next up for Arizona is Alabama in Phoenix on Wednesday, followed by No. 15 Florida Atlantic on Saturday in Las Vegas.
“I think the character of our program is strong and I think our guys dug in and fought back and I was really proud they gave us a chance,” Lloyd said of the Purdue game. “I think this is going to go a long ways to really help with our program.”
Top photo: Purdue guard Braden Smith attempts a shot against Wildcats guard Kylan Boswell (Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports)
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