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What we learned from Arizona’s exhibition win over Eastern New Mexico

arizona-wildcats-basketball-eastern-new-mexico-takeaways-reaction-lloyd-kriisa-koloko-2021 Photo by Christopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats had no trouble whatsoever with Division II Eastern New Mexico on Monday night, winning their exhibition 96-50 at McKale Center.

The game served as the UA’s final tuneup before regular-season play begins Nov. 9 at home against NAU.

Our recap can be found here, and postgame comments from head coach Tommy Lloyd, guard Justin Kier and center Christian Koloko can be found here. Below are some takeaways from the exhibition:

Fast and furious, but not completely clean

Arizona had 78 offensive possessions, more than in all but five games during the 12-year Sean Miller era, and the 72 field goal attempts were the most in a regulation game since 78 in an 84-80 home loss to Gonzaga in December 2019. On that Gonzaga staff: Lloyd, who since being hired in April had promised a fast pace and delivered, at least for this first competition.

“It was good for the most part,” Lloyd said of the pace. “I mean, there’s some things to clean up. We’re a movement-based team, in transition and the halfcourt.”

The UA averaged 1.23 points per possession, shooting 50 percent for the game, but it also turned the ball over 16 times including 10 in the first half. Ten of those turnovers were by Arizona’s big men, which Lloyd said is to be expected in his system but still not acceptable.

“Bigs tend to have high turnover numbers in this system so we definitely have to work to get them lower,” Lloyd said. “I think our bigs combined in the first eight to have eight turnovers. We’ll definitely address that on film.”

Defense still matters

Arizona held Eastern New Mexico to 29.2 percent shooting and forced 22 turnovers, which it converted into 35 points. But what Lloyd seemed to be most impressed with was how the Wildcats defended without fouling, as the Roadrunners took only nine free throws and drew only four shooting fouls.

That was apparently an area of great focus after the UA faced Saint Mary’s in a “secret” scrimmage in Phoenix on Oct. 23.

“I thought from Saint Mary’s to this we were much better just defensively, not with effort, but just clean and not fouling as much,” he said. “You can pressure and be aggressive but if you’re fouling it negates hustle, and then teams are going to shoot a bunch of free throws, which is the easiest way to score.”

Eastern New Mexico only scored on 22 of 78 possessions, and taking out the turnovers that still means Arizona got a stop 34 times.

Koloko’s numbers are indicative of what he can do, while Kerr Kriisa’s were not

Koloko had a double-double, with 14 points and 10 rebounds in just 16 minutes of play. The junior was 6 of 8 from the field and pulled down six offensive boards.

“I expect Christian to be as productive as he was tonight,” said Lloyd, who didn’t feel Koloko played his best game. “Christian worked really hard this offseason. I mean, he’s really had a good fall camp for us. But having a fall camp and having a good season are two different things. So now we need the things he didn’t fall camp to translate to these games where he really gets his confidence and understands how good of a player he is.”

Kriisa, who played a team-high 27 minutes, had only five points and was just 2 of 10 from the field. He missed 7 of 8 3-pointers.

“Kerr is really a good shooter and I feel comfortable with most all his shots tonight,” he said. “A 1 for 8 can turn into a 5 for 8 for him. I love when he’s hunting 3s like that, now we just got to get to, when he hunts the 3 our guys can’t assume he’s gonna make them, we got to go be super aggressive on the glass. Have his back there with how we offensive rebound on his 3-point attempts.

Arizona did get the offensive rebound on five of Kriisa’s seven missed 3s, resulting in seven second-chance points.

The rotation is pretty much set already

Kriisa, Koloko, Dalen Terry, Bennedict Mathurin and Azuolas Tubelis started the game, but less than three minutes in Lloyd began subbing. First off the bench were Kim Aiken Jr. and Kier, both of whom chipped in 14 points.

Big man Oumar Ballo was next on the court, with Shane Nowell and Adama Bal also seeing some time before the end of the bench was put into the game.

Those last three figure to be the first ones to see their minutes trimmed—they combined to play 35 on Monday—as the season progresses, but for now Lloyd wants to give them chances to show they can contribute.

“I want to reward those guys and give them some opportunities here and there,” he said. “I’ve talked to them, I think they know that there’s a long term plan for both of them in this program. But at the end of the day, you’re one unfortunate play away from your depth shrinking, and those guys need to be available, they need to be ready and they need to prepare as such.”

Speaking of which, Lloyd is projecting Utah transfer guard Pelle Larsson to be ready for the NAU game. He’s missed most of the preseason recovering from a Jones fracture in his right foot but recently has started practicing and scrimmaging.

“My guess would be he’ll be playing in that first game,” Lloyd said. “That’s kind of what I think is trending. I think that as we get going here, as he starts playing more, I think we’ll kind of experiment with some different lineups and smaller lineups with four guards out there, I think we can be really effective at that. I look forward to throwing (in) some packages just to give us some lineup versatility.”