College Hoops

Caleb Love leads Arizona into Sweet 16 with team-first approach: ‘He’s been an amazing teammate’

Caleb Love leads Arizona into Sweet 16 with team-first approach: 'He's been an amazing teammate'

Arizona’s Caleb Love arrived from North Carolina with a reputation. He was selfish, a bad teammate, took too many bad shots.

As is the case with most social media hyperbole, perception didn’t meet reality once Love put on a Wildcats uniform.

“Everybody had these preconceived notions about the kid coming out of Carolina, and it couldn’t have been further from the truth,” Arizona associate head coach Jack Murphy said. “He’s been an amazing teammate, an amazing competitor and a great learner.”

The Wildcats are in the Sweet 16 for the second time in three years under coach Tommy Lloyd, facing Clemson in Los Angeles on Thursday.

Love has been a huge part of Arizona’s success.

The 6-foot-4 guard leads the Wildcats with 18.1 points per game while averaging 4.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists. He was named the Pac-12 player of the year and a third-team Associated Press All-American after leading Arizona to the Pac-12 regular-season title.

Love also has given Arizona something that was missing the past couple of years: someone who doesn’t wilt when the game is on the line.

A year ago, Arizona found itself in a tight game against Princeton in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. With no go-to player, the Wildcats couldn’t come up with the big plays down the stretch and were bounced from the bracket as a No. 2 seed, quickly extinguishing what was expected to be a deep March run.

That won’t be the case in crunch time this year.

“You want to play in these moments, these big-time games,” Love said. “I dreamed of this as a kid, watching March Madness, wanted to be on the stage and I think I rise to the occasion.”

Love has a proven track record in that department.

At North Carolina, he scored 30 points against UCLA in the 2022 Sweet 16 and followed that by scoring 22 of his 28 in the second half against rival Duke in the Final Four, sending the Tar Heels into the championship game. Love proved his worth quickly at Arizona, making all the key plays down the stretch in a win at Duke during his second game in a Wildcats uniform.

“He’s not afraid of the moment,” Murphy said. “At the end of the day, he’s a winner. He doesn’t shy away from it”

Love’s reputation for taking and making difficult shots took a hit last season as North Carolina became the first preseason No. 1 to miss the NCAA Tournament. The Tar Heels had plenty of issues, but Love took the brunt of the criticism, earning a reputation — deserved or not — for being selfish.

Love’s decision to transfer to Arizona raised a…

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