There are still more than three weeks until the 2021-22 regular season begins, but before you know it Arizona is going to have some tangible results to work with rather than just practice observations.
The Wildcats are set to play Saint Mary’s in a so-called “secret” scrimmage on Oct. 23 at an undisclosed location in Phoenix. The scrimmage, which is closed to the public and will have no media presence, will include referees.
“We’re really excited to finally start playing against other people,” senior guard Justin Kier said after Friday’s practice, which coach Tommy Lloyd opened to reporters.
The UA is two-plus weeks into its first preseason under Lloyd, who was hired in April to replace Sean Miller. The longtime Gonzaga assistant plans to play an up-tempo style similar to the one he and head coach Mark Few utilized in Spokane, and a good portion of practice so far has been focused on getting his players comfortable with that pace.
And in some cases, uncomfortable with it.
“Last week I kind of created a little bit of adversity for the guys and I wanted to see how we reacted when things got a little bit tougher,” Lloyd said. “I was a little bit more critical, and that’s part of the learning process. I want us to struggle before we compete with somebody else. Because you don’t want your first struggles to come under the lights. The emphasis has been dealing with adversity, responding to bad plays. Not necessarily yelling at them but just putting them in situations where they’re making mistakes, and then seeing how they respond from those mistakes.
“The game is a game of mistakes. Making mistakes, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, if you learn from then. You don’t want to make a bunch of mistakes in a row and you know, and then you want to learn how, okay, here’s where mistakes are coming. How do we avoid these situations? Sometimes it’s, it’s not about getting better at something, it’s about just, let’s not do it. So those are some of the things I’ve really been focused on.”
Friday’s practice featured numerous segments where Arizona constantly ran up and down the court, throwing the ball ahead and looking for the best first shot. This wasn’t just guards and wings, the big men were just as involved in the flow, something junior center Christian Koloko is very excited about.
“The bigs, we’re going to have the ball more and more, we’re going to be able to make a little bit more decisions when we have the ball,” Koloko said. “That’s something we didn’t really have last year. Last year we were just passing out the ball in the post. Now you can have the ball on the perimeter and you have to make plays.”
Koloko admits he’s gotten tired quite a bit in this new system, but he thinks it will be worth it.
“I’m getting used to it,” he said. “I’m getting in better shape and just running up and down. I know I’m gonna have to be in good shape if I want to play the way Coach Lloyd wants me to play.”
Lloyd said he hasn’t decided on any sort of rotation for the Saint Mary’s scrimmage, though he hopes to get as many players as possible in for meaningful minutes.
“I think we’re going to be able to throw out a rotation that is going to be able to keep bodies fresh, keep good players on the court,” Lloyd said. “Absorb foul trouble and things of that nature. Those things factor so much into winning, more than maybe people think. Foul trouble, fatigue, those types of things, and I feel good about having enough good players to think that we’re going to be really competitive on a nightly basis.
“We’re probably gonna try a few things here and there, and you want to these guys who worked hard, you want to give guys chances under the lights to see how they look a little bit. Kind of let the rotation, kind of organically settle itself, as opposed to me … pigeonholing guys in or trying to pound the old square peg into a round hole type of stuff.”
Arizona’s first official exhibition is Nov. 1 at McKale Center against Eastern New Mexico, with the regular-season opener Nov. 9 at home against NAU.