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‘Best version’ of Arizona’s Pelle Larsson yet to appear as he works his way back from foot injury

arizona-wildcats-basketball-mens-pelle-larsson-foot-injury-2021-tommy-lloyd-michigan-wichita-vegas Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Off to a 5-0 start and back in the Top 25, pretty much everything is going right for the Arizona Wildcats so far. But not for Pelle Larsson.

The Utah transfer is still working his way back from a foot injury that kept him out of the preseason, and though he’s played in all five of the Wildcats’ games his performance has not been up to his standards.

“I still I don’t feel like I’m just 100 percent yet,” Larsson said Wednesday, prior to Arizona’s first practice since winning the Roman Main Event in Las Vegas. “We’ve been taking it really careful and going slow. So I was kind of expecting not to feel like the best version of myself right away. I think those couple of months that I missed in the preseason are some really important months, with just practicing and getting your fundamentals down within the system. It’s a long season, I have a lot of time to catch up, so I’m not worried.”

Larrson, a 6-foot-5 guard from Sweden, transferred to the UA after starting 18 games for Utah in 2020-21. He averaged 8.2 points per game and shot 46.3 percent from 3-point range for the Utes, making 2 of 3 from outside as part of a 14-point effort in a win over Arizona in February.

So far with the Wildcats, Larsson is averaging 4.2 points and 17 minutes per game, shooting just 33.3 percent from the field while making only 2 of 10 3s.

“It’s always tough to get your groove back and your feel for the game after an injury,” he said. “That’s been the biggest problem for me so far. I’m not happy with what I’m doing offensively, but I’m happy what I’m doing effort-wise and trying to play hard. I’ve just been trying to focus on doing everything I can to win. Maybe sometimes the ball doesn’t going so you gotta focus on other things.”

Lloyd said he has no concerns with what Larsson is doing on the offensive end, even though he looked quite angry with Larsson after he launched a deep 3-point attempt during the second half of Sunday’s win over Michigan. The fact that he’s struggling while Arizona is still winning makes getting him out of that rut easier to deal with.

“To be part of a good team, not everybody’s gonna play good at every moment,” Lloyd said. “It’s just how it is. Pelle is a really good player, we all know that. He’s kind of been put in a tough situation, bouncing back from injury and literally just kind of easing himself into practice as games started.I know he’s going to be great for us offensively.

“If waiting for Pelle Larsson to come along is my biggest problem that I don’t got many problems.”

Larsson was 2 of 8 from the field and 0 for 3 from 3 in Vegas but had five rebounds and four assists while also drawing a charge against Michigan.

“I think he’s been great defensively, I love his energy, I love toughness,” Lloyd said. “One thing I’ll tell you about Pelle, he’s tough as nails. Some of those vertical contests he’s doing down there, he’s putting his body on the line going up, not worried if he’s getting dunked on and he’s putting guys on his chest, which is pretty impressive. I think he’s a guy that plays his ass off, and he throws his body around, which is admirable. And offensively, yeah, I think he’s kind of fighting his way a little bit. That stuff will work itself out.”

Speaking of toughness, Larsson took quite a few hits during Friday’s overtime win over Wichita State. Big man Oumar Ballo landed on his knee during a play in the paint—“next thing I knew, 260-pound Oumar was on my leg,” he said—and on a loose ball Kerr Kriisa drew blood when his shoulder smacked into Larrson’s face.

Neither collision was as bad as looked, he said, despite Kriisa’s postgame tweet.

“Basketball is a pretty physical sport, I think,” Larsson said. “If you put effort in and you play against other guys that have the same effort, I think a lot of bodies are gonna get banged up.”

Lloyd said he doesn’t want to know about minor injuries to his players unless it’s going to impact their play.

“If you play the way we play, you’re gonna have some bumps and bruises, but I don’t want to see guys wincing in pain,” he said. “I just tell our guys when we hit the court we don’t wince. We don’t flinch.”