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What Tommy Lloyd, Bennedict Mathurin and Oumar Ballo said after Arizona’s win over North Dakota State

arizona-wildcats-mens-basketball-postgame-interviews-tommy-lloyd-mathurin-ballo-ndsu-bison-2021 Arizona Athletics

Another game, another blowout victory, another postgame press conference with Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd saying he didn’t expect that kind of a result. Maybe he’s set the bar too low for his first Wildcats team?

The UA crushed North Dakota State on Tuesday night, winning 97-45 to improve to 3-0 on the season. The Wildcats have won back-to-back games by 50-plus points for the first time since 1920-21 and they’ve held all three opponents to 52 or fewer points, which was last accomplished at the start of the 1949-50 season.

“Now, this is in three home games, it’s early in the year,” Lloyd said. “I don’t think we need to anoint these guys the 90s Detroit Pistons, but they’re on their way to being a great defensive team. And there’s nothing wrong with that being your calling card.”

Our recap can be found here. Below is what Lloyd, guard Bennedict Mathurin and center Oumar Ballo had to say about the win:

Lloyd on why the defense has looked so good so far: “We have good personnel. It’s no secret, Sean (Miller) coached defense hard, so I think there’s been some carryover there with the effort. We’ve kind of adapted to the personnel a little bit with the plan, but that they’ve been well schooled, which is a good place to start. You get a guy like Justin Kier, Kim Aiken. Kim Aiken was the Defensive Player of the Year in his conference. Pelle Larsson’s a heck of a defender. Oumar, now that he’s in shape he’s coming over and protecting the rim. You have those guys off the bench, there isn’t a big fall off the fence. So it’s been a good mix, but you know what, the crazy thing is, it’s going to get tested. Over and over and over again.”

On the importance of pairing good defense with good offense: “There’s a formula to be a great team and make deep runs in tournaments. You want to try to fight to be a top-20 defense and a top-20 offense. One of the big jumps we made at Gonzaga, maybe the last 10 years, was we got pretty good defensively. Defense you can coach a lot of ways, you can have a guru, or do this stuff or do that stuff. Coach (Mark) Few and I decided not to do that, we just started coaching it ourselves, like what’s hard to play against? What bothers us, and using common sense and trying to be flexible and go play to your personnel a little bit. It’s inspiring the way the guys are playing now.”

On the frontcourt defense: “Rim protection is huge. It’s not blocked shots, it’s rim protection. When that guard breaks through your first line of defense, and he’s starting to get downhill, okay, you make him shoot over a 7-foot guy ... but even our other guys are contesting shots. All those guys are 6-7, 6-8, 6-10 Zu, 6-6 Pelle. Kerr is the only small guy we got and he’s scrappy. So we a good defensive makeup. That’s how you package defense. When you have (rim) protection, now you can get a little more aggressive taking away threes. We have certain ways we like to take away threes and we practice it, and we understand if we get beat then here’s the next thing. And we practice it every single day. And the guys probably get sick of it but now I think they’re seeing there’s reasons why we do it.”

On how this defense differs from what he did at Gonzaga: “I’m not doing anything defensively that I’ve never coached before. It’s a lot of the same concepts, it’s just with a new group, and we have really good personnel to do some of the things that I’m comfortable doing defensively, so it’s been a good mix.”

On why he was surprised by the margin of victory: “That’s a really good basketball program. And obviously, they got a tough-hop schedule, so I want to take my hat off to then. I wasn’t driving down here today thinking you’re gonna win by that margin. I was hoping we could hit our coverages. They had some skilled bigs and we did a great job taking them out of the game, because we’re mobile on defense, we can switch things, we can give different looks and adjust, and even if they switch, now you’re posting a guy like Pelle Larsson, who’s ... you guys probably haven’t stood next to him, but he’s a man. So there is no real disadvantage. I was just hoping we keep growing from our experiences as a group playing against different styles of play, because at the end of the day, it comes down to matchups. I know that’s a cliche, but how you match up with certain people. Do you have an Achilles heel defensively. And if you don’t, or your Achilles heel is hard to define, it makes you hard to play against.”

On emphasizing paint scoring early: “It’s a simple formula. What’s the best way to get skilled bigs off the floor? Foul them out. Go at them, make them play defense. We set a goal for paint points, and I don’t know if we hit it, and I’m not share with you what the goal is, but we take that stuff serious. We want to play a physical brand of basketball, inside out, make no bones about it.”

On Arizona going 10 of 17 from 3-point range in the second half: “I love threes that are good looks. Some of the threes we took in the first half, I talked to the guys, that’s why I called a timeout. Benn shot one when we didn’t put any pressure on the defense. Zu shot one where he just sprinted out and shot one, when we kind of went stagnant in the first half. You don’t have to shoot those shots, you’re settling. Now there’s nothing wrong with earning a good 3-point shot. Whether you’re running the floor or you’re exploring things on a ball screen, or rotation happens, they rotate off a shooter, you hit him, he shoots it, that’s great offense. And I love those 3s. The guys are getting comfortable with what I like and what I don’t like. But listen, I’m also gonna live with some shots, too, because they’re good guys, they’re trying hard, they’re trying to make them and I don’t want them to play tight.”

On talking so much about defense while averaging 94 points per game: “I love it. You guys focus on the offense, I don’t. We practice more defense than offense, I promise you that.”

On Mathurin having a strong outing and if it means he’s back: “I hope so. I met with Benn, and Benn’s a really good player. Listen, he’s a developing player, and it’s not fair to some of these kids. It’s media-driven. It’s social media-driven that they’re anointing them to be NBA players. Yeah, he’s really talented, but let him develop on his own pace. There’s nothing worse for a coach than having a really talented player who’s feeling squeezed, feeling pressure. Every miss or make he’s living and dying with. And I’m trying to help him but I can feel his pain. There’s nothing worse than that as a coach. But Benn’s fine. He’s right where he should be. A little bit inconsistent, a little bit up and down, but he’s trending upwards as long as he learns. That’s been my message to him. So we had a couple of really good meetings, really positive, I worked out with them a couple days ago, nothing crazy, not a magic touch but I was spending time with him. And we’re talking, about what this is going to take, and he came out today and he showed some of the things I’ve been on him. I think he’s gonna shoot the ball quicker, he’s gonna shoot with energy. He’s been shooting these set shots and kind of tiptoeing, should I shoot it, should I not shoot it? No one’s going that way. So he’s learning, he’s learning. He’s right where he should be. I love the kid, and hopefully he can kind of tune the outside noise out and develop at his own pace organically like he should.”

On the halfcourt offense: “I’ll have to go back and watch it. That’s an interesting question, but here’s what’s hard. When you guys might be looking at it you might be looking at it like you’re isolating a variable. When I’m looking at it, I see a calculus equation. I see this effect that effect that effect that effect that. So for me, it’s hard to say. I mean, there were some sessions I thought we settled afterward, but there was also some beautiful ones where we had multiple movement, got to the third ball screen (and) something good happen. I look at the whole thing, like how’s our pace impacting things, are we putting foul pressure, are we getting early Azuolas early post-ups, are we getting to multiple ball screens when we do have to run a halfcourt set? I think the biggest thing is, our guys got to trust getting to the next ball screen, and our guys are so unselfish passing right now, I think they could have drove and got a bunch of layups today. On some of those balls screens they kept trying to hit Christian for the lob. So, just little things we got to learn, and they’re not easy, because every game you’re playing a different style of defense.”

On how much North Dakota State was impacted by playing at UNLV on Monday night and then bussing to Tucson: “I’m sure there was a lot. I mean, I couldn’t give you a number of points that it impacted, but it’s a lot. Sometimes, programs like them, it’s a tough road with some of these nonconference games. But you know what? I guarantee you that’s a winning program, that’s a heck of a coach, and he’s gonna say, ‘all right, boys, we’re gonna wash that one down the shower, we’re going to learn from it and we’re going to come back, and they’re gonna have a chip on their shoulder. For sure.”

On what he’s hoping for from the Roman Main Event tournament in Las Vegas: “Play good basketball. That’s possession by possession. We’re gonna try to play the way we’ve been establishing, and we know it’s going to get tested. Maybe some better athletes, higher-level talent. We’re gonna play the game. We don’t have any crazy plan, we’re going to come here and prepare tomorrow, maybe learn a few things from this game and move on to Wichita State.”

On Wichita State: “It’s a tough, blue collar program. Their players have chips on their shoulders, they fight you, it’s going to be a physical battle. And I think we’re built for that. Now it’s going to get tested. It’s going to get tested again.”

On if he likes starting off with three games at McKale and then playing away from home: “Every year is different. Every team is different. With this being my first year it has been a nice transition, and I’ll probably give you a better answer Friday, after the game, on it was the right thing. But it’s the next game on the schedule. I’m excited for it. Our guys are excited, and we’re going to prepare for a battle.”

On what he wants to see his team improve at: “What I want to see to improve is I want them to understand why we’re having success, and double down on the reasons we’re having success. That the biggest thing. This is how we play and we play with unselfishness, great energy, great toughness. I told them, you can be nice guys and still kick ass. That’s the message and that’s what we want to do.”

On hitting another halfcourt shot during afternoon shootaround: “I just told the guys, you shoot to make it. Five times we shot them. Red-Blue, the exhibition and three games. Four out of the five games I’ve made it, so it’s kind of a trend.”

On if Kerr Kriisa has earned the right to keep wearing a headband: “I didn’t even know if he had a headband on, to be honest. Swear to God. I don’t notice any of that stuff. I don’t notice headbands, arm sleeves, shoe colors. I’m there to watch basketball. Did he have a headband on tonight? Kerr, I think he’s a really good player. And he’s grown as a player and he’s really, I can really feel him starting to lead in practices and shootarounds, and I love where he’s at and I love that I’m his coach.”

On if Mathurin taking out his braids and getting rid of his headband contributed to his game: “I’ll leave that for you experts to analyze.”

Mathurin on losing the braids: “I felt more free. I needed a change, need new braids.”

On how he played: “I think I was pretty aggressive coming to the game. I grabbed a lot of rebounds, had a good game defensively, and obviously scored scored a couple baskets. Had a stronger second half than the first half.”

On if he’s struggled to learn the new offense: “I don’t think it was really a struggle. I think we have a lot of great players on the team. Also, I needed to adjust to ... playing with my new teammates. It’s just a new style of play. It is really different. I had plays called for me last year, this year is more based off reads.”

On what keeps the defense fresh: “Every game we have a new coverage, so it’s just about learning every single game. I feel like we have pretty good athletes. We have good big men and wings and guards. It’s just about adjusting and communicating and I think we’ll be fine.”

On the frontcourt defense: “We force them to the paint knowing that Oumar, Christian, Azuolas, the big guys are probably, in my opinion, the best bigs in the country from what we’ve seen. We trust each other in sending them to the paint, knowing it’s going to be hard to score on them.”

Ballo on fitting well into Arizona’s system: “I’ve been playing this type of offense the last two years, so I expected that. I feel more free to be myself. We share the ball.”

On how different it is from the Gonzaga offense: “They’re pretty similar, but also we have a lot of new plays that we never ran up there.”

On the difference between Lloyd the assistant and Lloyd the head coach: “I think he’s the same person, but he has more responsibility and making more, tougher calls. And being there for the team. Always, every practice he comes with a smile on his face.”