Pac-12 Tournament Notebook: Tommy Lloyd gets emotional praising his staff, Johnny Juzang’s mental state
The Pac-12 Tournament once again went chalk on Friday night. No. 1 seed Arizona advanced with an 82-72 win over No. 4 seed Colorado. Then, in the nightcap, No. 2 seed UCLA bested No. 3 seed USC, 69-59.
Now, we’re set for a rubber match between the Wildcats and Bruins. UCLA won in Los Angeles. Arizona won in Tucson. Whoever wins in Las Vegas on Saturday night will get to cut down the nets and add another trophy to its collection.
But, before we get to Saturday night’s title game, let’s take a look back at what we learned from Friday’s semifinals:
Quick adjustments for Arizona
A big part of a conference tournament, even more so than the NCAA Tournament, is the ability to adjust quickly. In the NCAA Tournament, you have at least 1 day off between games. That’s not the case in conference tournaments.
So, when Kerr Kriisa, Arizona’s starting point guard, went down with an ankle injury against Stanford on Thursday, coach Tommy Lloyd and his staff had a little over 24 hours to adjust and come up with a new plan.
That plan was to slide Justin Kier into the starting lineup, which necessitated numerous other adjustments. While Kriisa is a knockdown shooter, Kier likes to get into the lane and play a downhill style of basketball.
But, Lloyd said after the game he wasn’t worried about Kier’s ability to lead the offense at all.
“You guys know what Justin means to the program and means to me,” he said. “He was awesome. I literally had 0 reservations. Once Kerr’s injury, we knew what it was going to be, I felt like we still had a great chance to win the game.”
Kier finished with 13 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists. He knocked down the only 3 he attempted:
Justin Kier for the lead! 🔥
11-3 run for the Cats.
— Arizona Basketball (@ArizonaMBB) March 12, 2022
While Kriisa is more comfortable as a shooter, as Lloyd said, Kier opens up new avenues for the offense with his ability to get into the lane.
“Justin’s a really good defender,” he said. “I just also thought offensively, Justin’s penetration could help us. Kerr’s obviously a good shooter, Justin’s a little more of a downhill guard.”
Kier also made sure to utilize Kriisa as another set of eyes on the bench. He said he spoke with his teammate before the game and at halftime.
“We talk all the time,” Kier said. “He was just like, ‘You got this.’ That’s all he was telling me – ‘You got this, I don’t need to tell you anything, I know you’re going to go out there and play great.’ But I started asking him questions at halftime – ‘What do you see out there? Do you see anything I missed?’ And he said, ‘You’re doing good, just go out there and hoop. You’re shooting the ball really well right now.’ … He was letting me know I was ready for it. I knew I was ready, but I just wanted to hear some things from him.”
Kier’s going to have his hands full again on Saturday night, as Tyger Campbell of UCLA will be lining up opposite him for the Bruins. We’ll see what Kier and Kriisa come up with as a plan of attack.
“It’s a formula”
Before the second media timeout in the Arizona-Colorado game, the Buffaloes were red-hot, having knocked down 5 3-pointers. Jabari Walker had made 3 of those, and would finish the first half a perfect 5-for-5 from beyond the arc.
For the game, Colorado shot 50% from long-range, knocking down 16 of their 32 3-pointers. But, the Buffaloes only went 8-for-30 from inside the arc and only made 8 free throws on 10 attempts.
That, Lloyd said, was something that Arizona focused on defensively – not giving up easy points and forcing the Buffaloes into jump shots.
“You’ve got to make a lot of 3s to overcome that,” Lloyd said of Colorado’s 8-for-30 mark from 2-point range. “We did a great job not putting them on the foul line, because they were shooting a lot of jump shots. It was a winning formula.
“If they shoot well from 3 and you choke down the lane and you limit free throws, it’s a formula. They’re going to score. You don’t pitch shutouts in basketball. Sometimes, you’ve got to make decisions. Tomorrow … we might come out with a different plan. Today, we felt like this was the best plan for us. … It took some courage to stick with it. When they made 4 3s before the first media timeout, I was like, ‘Here we go again.’ You’ve just got to hang with it sometimes and believe in the plan.”
Speaking of the courage to stick with new plans, Lloyd got choked up a bit talking about how much his coaching staff means to him. Adjusting on the fly to Colorado’s hot 3-point shooting and Kriisa’s injury wasn’t easy. Lloyd made sure his assistants knew just how proud he was of them.
“I want to give my staff a lot of credit,” he said. “We did a lot of things out there traditionally I’m not very comfortable with today. I always get emotional thinking about what those guys mean to me, but they had some great ideas and we hung with it. Those guys, I told them after the game – our staff, the care factor is off the charts. For those guys to talk me into what we did today, they deserve a lot of credit, because I can be pretty hard-headed sometimes.”
Next up? A battle with No. 2 seed UCLA with a Pac-12 Tournament title on the line. We’ll see what Lloyd and his staff come up with for Saturday night’s game.
Johnny Juzang’s mental state
Johnny Juzang led UCLA in scoring this season, averaging more than 16 points per game. But, lately, he’s been struggling in that aspect of his game. He hasn’t scored more than 10 points in a game since Feb. 17 against Washington State. In 2 games at the Pac-12 Tournament so far, he’s scored 6 and 10 points.
However, the 10 points game in Friday night’s win over USC, and he showed signs of breaking out of his slump in the second half. He went 4-for-11 from the floor, but 3 of those made shots were after halftime, including this nice drive to the basket:
Johnny Juzang … TOO 💪
— UCLA Men’s Basketball (@UCLAMBB) March 12, 2022
After the game, coach Mick Cronin said getting Juzang going was something he tried to do with UCLA holding a double-digit lead in the second half.
“I was really happy to see him get some shots to go down,” Cronin said. “I ran a couple of isos for him once we were up 10 where I thought he could score and get fouled. We’ve got to get him going if we’re going to do what he came back to school to do. He can’t just be a nonfactor.”
So, what’s playing into Juzang’s struggles lately? Cronin said NBA Draft talk might be getting to him.
“I’m a big believer in the mental state,” he said. “I had a kid go through it at Cincinnati. People start talking about the draft and, I may be wrong, but I know if I was him and (the draft) was maybe a possibility, how much pressure you can put on yourself. Pressure’s a good thing. You embrace it and try to win, but if you’re stressing out about that type of stuff and that’s in your mind while you’re trying to shoot the ball, it’s a recipe for disaster.”
Cronin said it’s easy for him to tell Juzang to block out the draft speculation and focus on the task at hand, but he acknowledges that is sometimes difficult to actually put into practice.
“I just don’t want him stressing about it. Just give it your best effort. But that’s easy for me to say – I’ve got a nicer house,” Cronin joked. “It’s easy for me to say, ‘Hey man, just do your best, don’t worry about your future’ when you have my contract. But you’ve got to try to relieve that stress for him somehow.”
Sometimes all a shooter needs is to see the ball go through the net a couple of times. Juzang got that in the second half on Friday. That could set him up for success against Arizona on Saturday night. The Bruins will need a good game from him if they’re going to cut down the nets.
Tyger Campbell does it all
UCLA point guard Tyger Campbell only scored 2 points in the Bruins’ quarterfinal win over Washington State. That was fine, as he facilitated the offense and also played stifling defense on Wazzu’s guards.
The strong defense continued on Friday against USC. Boogie Ellis scored 27 points to lead all scorers (remember his name come this time next week), but the rest of the USC offense struggled, scoring only 59 total points in the loss.
Campbell’s offense improved, as he scored 14 points (1 of 4 Bruins in double figures), but he knows UCLA’s chances in March Madness hinge on defensive effort.
“When we went on our (Final Four) run last year, we were really locked in on the defensive side of the ball,” Campbell said. “Coach preaches defense, defense, defense, so we’re trying to lock in this year again.”
Friday’s effort was a good start. But Arizona will be a different animal on Saturday night. Campbell will need to spearhead an elite performance from the UCLA defense if the Bruins are going to win a Pac-12 title (which would be their first since 2014).
The Pac-12 Championship Game will tip off at 6 p.m. Pacific time on Saturday night from Las Vegas. It can be seen on FOX.