Effort, team basketball has Arizona basketball in perfect early-season form

Dec 2, 2021, 6:15 PM

In the weeks following the announcement of Tommy Lloyd becoming the next head coach of Arizona basketball, he saw what the Wildcats could become.

“When we started doing workouts in the spring, you could see some talent,” Lloyd said. “I was able to see some things that I thought were pretty glaring that we needed to work on and we just approached it with a day-to-day approach and one thing led to the next, led to the next, led to the next.”

All of those things have led No. 11 Arizona to its best AP Poll ranking since Jan. 29, 2018 after a 6-0 start that includes a win over then-No. 4 Michigan in the Roman Main Event final.

The Wildcats also have an overtime neutral-site win against Wichita State from the Roman Main Event first round on their resume.

The Wildcats have not played the best competition yet at home, but they are winning games comfortably in Tucson. Arizona has won its four home games so far this season by an average of 45 points.

So far, the team’s performances alone are not what is impressing Lloyd the most.

“I would put our effort probably a little bit ahead of our execution, which is a good thing,” Lloyd said. “You can execute great, but if you have low effort, you’re going to have poor results and our efforts have been high.”

That’s a big statement, given what the Wildcats have done from an execution standpoint. Arizona leads the Pac-12 and is third nationally with 91.5 points per game. Arizona’s shooting numbers have been terrific at 49.45%, landing itself inside the top 25 there as well.

Yet, it’s the way the Wildcats share the basketball that has caught a lot of eyes.

Arizona leads the nation with an average of 23.5 assists per game, two more than the second-place St. John’s Red Storm.

It’s exactly what Lloyd wants out of his system. He said that he does not put too much pressure on his players to make impeccable decisions.

“I always tell our guys I’m not looking for perfect decisions, I’m looking for quick, simple decisions,” Lloyd said. “The players have to buy into that. They’re the ones out there making the passes and setting their teammates up, not me, so it probably goes hand in hand.”

Another factor in Arizona’s team basketball success has been getting everyone involved. Six players, including four starters, are averaging at least seven points per game. All four starters in that list are averaging at least 10 points per game.

Sophomore forward Azuolas Tubelis leads the way with 16.5 points. Junior center Christian Koloko is right behind him, averaging 16.2 points.

Lloyd does not limit his list of contributors to just the six most productive scorers, though.

“We got nine guys that are really contributing on a consistent basis,” Lloyd said. “We got two young guys off the bench I’m really excited about and I think it’s important to value all of them. I try to do the best I can talking with them and meeting with them, showing how much I appreciate them and keep telling them ways they can keep trying to help us.”

Despite not being able to play a game Thursday due to COVID-19 issues within the Washington program, Arizona still has a tough month ahead.

The Wildcats start Pac-12 play on Sunday with a road trip to Corvallis to take on Oregon State. Six days later, Arizona travels to take on Illinois.

After two home games, Arizona will travel again for back-to-back games against currently ranked opponents. The Wildcats face No. 13 Tennessee on Dec. 22 and then No. 5 UCLA on Dec. 30.

Lloyd believes the month ahead will benefit Arizona for the rest of the season.

“It’s going to be experiences this team needs,” Lloyd said. “This team’s going to need those experiences because they’re going to serve them well as you get into your January, February and hopefully your march to the postseason.”

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Effort, team basketball has Arizona basketball in perfect early-season form