ARIZONA BASKETBALL

No. 12 Arizona begins season with the 63-point win over Morgan State

Nov 6, 2023, 9:52 PM

Arizona Wildcats guard Pelle Larsson #3 during the first half of a basketball game between the Morg...

Arizona Wildcats guard Pelle Larsson #3 during the first half of a basketball game between the Morgan State Bears and the University of Arizona Wildcats on November 6, 2023 at McKale Center in Tucson, AZ. (Photo by Christopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

(Photo by Christopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

No. 12 Arizona kicked off its 2023-24 campaign with a 122-59 win over Morgan State in Tucson on Monday.

The Wildcats led by 35 at halftime. In the first half alone, they attempted 22 free throws and had 14 offensive rebounds. All five starters were in double figures by a few minutes into the second half. The 122 points is the most in program history since 1998.

Point guard Kylan Boswell led the way with 18 points while forward Keshad Johnson contributed 14 points, seven rebounds, three steals and three blocks.

It’s a big season for third-year head coach Tommy Lloyd after falling in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to fifteenth-seeded Princeton, another poor ending to a promising regular season featuring tourney upsets following the Sweet 16 exit as a No. 1 seed for the start of his coaching journey in Tucson two years ago.

Arizona will go as far as its three returning core players from last season can take it, which will primarily be based on how much senior center Oumar Ballo, senior wing Pelle Larsson and Boswell improved year-to-year.

Ballo was an unstoppable, dominant force heading into conference play last year before his impact at that level waned. He will have more responsibility now after the departure of Azuolas Tubelis. If Ballo and the Wildcats are able to figure out a more consistent way to feature him in the offense, he should be in an All-American.

Larsson has been a good role player for two years now but wasn’t able to take a step forward last season after winning Pac-12 Sixth Man of the Year on the 33-win squad. Boswell showed tremendous potential as a 17-year-old true freshman, giving every indication he will be able to fill the big shoes of transfer exit Kerr Kriisa and then some.

While not to the level of NBA talent this team had two years ago, North Carolina transfer Caleb Love is the scorer the Wildcats direly needed last season without Bennedict Mathurin and the San Diego State transfer Johnson is a bigger version of the versatile defender Dalen Terry was.

Lloyd, much like last year’s team, has a tall task ahead of him when it comes to sifting through his bench beyond what is expected to be one of the best starting lineups in the country. This year’s squad figures to be deeper, with Alabama transfer Jaden Bradley and some highly touted freshmen from the international pool in forward Paulius Murauskas and center Motiejus Krivas, plus four-star wing K.J. Lewis out of Duncanville High School in Texas.

Lewis was impressive on Monday with his slashing, playmaking and defense, with those first two skills being areas where Mathurin and Terry impacted games in big ways as well. He finished with eight points, four rebounds, four assists and five steals.

Krivas brings skill to the frontcourt that is needed without Tubelis and offers another giant option who should gobble up rebounds and shot attempts at the rim like Ballo. Krivas ended up at 12 points, five rebounds and four assists on the night.

Lloyd in the first half also mixed in sophomore Filip Borovicanin, while sophomore seven-footer Henri Veesaar should get some opportunities as well once he returns from an elbow injury.

Arizona will be an even bigger team this year, and with the additions of Bradley, Johnson, Love and Krivas, should be better defensively. Bradley, Lewis and Love all provide more downhill juice attacking the basket while that trio plus Boswell and Larsson will have to be efficient from 3 to keep the offense elite and utilize its size properly. Keep an eye on Murauskas emerging to help in both of those departments as well.

These are all dynamics that will be tested early. Lloyd put together a challenging non-conference schedule that begins with No. 2 Duke on Friday and also includes No. 4 Michigan State, No. 3 Purdue, No. 24 Alabama and No. 10 Florida Atlantic.

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