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What to watch for when Arizona men’s basketball hosts Southern

arizona-wildcats-mens-basketball-preview-southern-tigers-scoring-turnovers-assists-tommy-lloyd-swac Photo by Christopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Arizona’s 2022-23 season got off to a record-setting start on Monday, with the Wildcats setting a single-game school record by shooting 71.7 percent in a 117-75 win over Nicholls.

Next on tap during the nonconference slate is Southern on Friday night at McKale Center. He’s what to look for in that contest:

Another ‘handsy’ opponent

The 117 points Arizona scored on Monday was its most since 1998 and tied for ninth-most in school history. Asked if that kind of production could become commonplace, coach Tommy Lloyd joked that he’d been inspired after watching Paul Westhead’s old Loyola Marymount teams from the late 1980s and “we’re going to try to score 130 a game.”

He then pointed out the style of play of the opponent, Nicholls, had a lot to do with Arizona being able to score so much, calling the Colonels’ pressure-heavy approach that led to 24 UA turnovers as “handsy.”

Southern is similar in that style. The Tigers had 12 steals and forced 18 turnovers in a 66-56 loss at UNLV on Monday.

“Definitely stuff we got to clean up,” Lloyd said of the turnovers. “We tried to warn the guys. Some of the turnovers I think some of our younger guys had and they just never played in a game like that. For them to get that experience and learn from it, it’s gonna be a positive.”

Tiger kings

Southern was picked to finish third in the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) this season, the same spot it finished a year ago in going 17-14. The Tigers return three starters including senior forward Tyrone Lyons, who led them in scoring and rebounding.

Against UNLV, though, it was transfer guard Bryson Etienne that carried the offense. He had 25 points on 9-of-18 shooting, making 6 of 11 3-pointers, while fellow guard PJ Byrd (who previously played at VCU and Colorado State) had seven points, six rebounds and six assists.

Southern is ranked 268th by, 16 spots below Nicholls. Arizona is the second of four consecutive road games it will play to start the saw, with games at Saint Mary’s and Cal next week, and the Tigers also visit Xavier (and ex-UA head coach Sean Miller) in December.

Arizona will play Southern in New Orleans next season, the second half of a home-and-home as part of the Pac-12’s scheduling partnership with the SWAC.

More big man dominance

KenPom ranks Southern as the 217th-tallest team in Division I, while Arizona is the tallest. Against Nicholls the Wildcats started four plays 6-foot-5 or above, while the Tigers used only one player taller than 6-7 against UNLV.

This should lead to another massive size advantage for the UA on the inside, this coming after Azuolas Tubelis and Oumar Ballo combined for 41 points on 15-of-18 shooting while backups Henri Veesaar and Dylan Anderson made all five of their shots.

Ballo and Tubelis also had 10 of Arizona’s 30 assists, showing that when they were doubled they knew when to pass out rather than go up with the defense having a man advantage.

Arizona led the nation in assists last season, setting a school record with 726 and going 14-0 when assisting on at least 67 percent of made field goals.

“I think assists create easy baskets,” Lloyd said. “It’s not something we talk about on a day to day basis, but I think our guys for the most part believe in playing team basketball and sharing. I think they really enjoy making that extra pass and getting an open shot. (Ballo and Tubelis) feel a little more comfortable making decisions with the ball. Especially Oumar, you see how much more confident he looks with the ball in his hands.”