TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona had a strong second season under coach Tommy Lloyd, winning 28 games while earning a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Wildcats fell flat once the bracket started, struggling against Princeton's deliberate style in a loss to the 15th-seeded Tigers.
The unexpected early exit forced Lloyd to evaluate the trajectory of his program.
“The first thing I thought after that Princeton game is I need to increase our margin for error, and to me, toughness is a way that you do that,” Lloyd said. “If you want to be competitive in these games, sometimes you’ve got to be able to physically dominate your opponent.”
Arizona appears to have the pieces in place to do just that.
The Wildcats, ranked No. 12 in the AP Top 25, lost several key players from last year's team, including power forward Azuolas Tubelis and point guard Kerr Kriisa.
Lloyd was aggressive in replenishing his roster, adding talent and depth to a returning core anchored by big man Oumar Ballo, swingman Pelle Larsson and point guard Kylan Boswell.
Through the transfer portal, Arizona added former North Carolina guard Caleb Love, Alabama guard Jaden Bradley and power forward Keshad Johnson, a key player during San Diego State's run to the national championship game last season.
Lloyd has had a knack for finding international talent going back to his days as Mark Few's assistant at Gonzaga and added two of the best players from Lithuania, 7-footer Motiejus Krivas and forward Paulius Murauskas.
Arizona also landed KJ Lewis, an athletic freshman guard who could see plenty of playing time.
“We’ve got a lot of guys,” Larsson said. “I feel like this is probably like the deepest roster that I’ve been a part of. So many talented young guys and experienced upperclassmen. It’s a good mix.”
Arizona's biggest move of the offseason was landing Love. The key now will be getting him to fit into Arizona's team-first system.
The 6-foot-4 guard had some big moments for the Tar Heels, scoring 30 points against UCLA in the Sweet 16 and 28 — 22 in the second half — against Duke in the 2022 Final Four.
Love also has been criticized at times for shot selection, particularly last season while North Carolina went from preseason No. 1 to missing the NCAA Tournament after reaching the national title game the year before.
“They didn’t have a great year as a team last year and he was part of it, and he owned it,” Lloyd said. “He and I have had amazing conversations about how we can help him and how he can help us. So I think we got him at the right time.”
Boswell showed incredible poise as a 17-year-old freshman last season, confidently running Arizona's offense behind Kriisa.
Now that the Estonian point guard is at West Virginia, Boswell will take over the reins.
A former five-star recruit, Boswell was eased into the rotation last season while returning from a broken foot and got better as the season progressed. The 6-2 point guard is an excellent ball distributor who can shoot from the perimeter and is a gritty defender who never backs down.
Lloyd has followed his former mentor, Few, is scheduling tough nonconference games to prepare his team for later in the season.
The Wildcats will have a big early test, playing at No. 2 Duke the second game of the season. Arizona also has games against No. 4 Michigan State in Palm Springs, No. 3 Purdue in Indianapolis, No. 24 Alabama and Wisconsin.
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