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What to watch for when Arizona men’s basketball hosts Sacramento State

arizona-wildcats-mens-basketball-sacramento-state-hornets-preview-tommy-lloyd-mckale-2021 Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats are back in action after nearly a week off, taking on Sacramento State in an early-evening matchup at McKale Center on Saturday.

The UA (5-0) moved into the AP Top 25 at No. 17 after winning the Roman Main Event tournament in Las Vegas, knocking off then-No. 4 Michigan in the title game.

This game tips off at 5:30 p.m. MT, right around the time the Territorial Cup will be finishing up in Tempe. Here’s what to keep an eye on in this nonconference tilt:

Back to basics

Arizona took Monday and Tuesday off after the Vegas trip, practiced Wednesday, celebrated Thanksgiving on Thursday and were back in the gym Friday. In other words, being ranked hasn’t done much to change how the Wildcats are going about their business.

Coach Tommy Lloyd said he spent a lot of time looking at film from the Roman Main Event in order to see what he could use from those games to adjust Arizona’s play, particularly in terms of staying disciplined on defense and not trying to race out on offense when the previous play isn’t over.

“I think we got to kind of deepen our understanding of how we want to read and make decisions in the flow of the game,” he said. “I think we have to improve upon our fundamentals, maybe some of our footwork, our passing, things of that nature. Defensively, I thought we were pretty good for the most part. I think we got to, like all teams, have that sense of urgency to finish possessions. We can’t have guys leaking out in transition. We want to run, but I don’t think we have to cheat to run.”

Arizona is holding opponents to 31.8 percent shooting, third-best in Division I, but it is allowing nearly 12 offensive rebounds per game. Wichita State had 19 second-chance points, contributing to why that game went to overtime.

3-point shooting

Arizona is shooting 31.5 percent from 3-point range after a combined 9-of-48 effort in Vegas. The Wildcats are 32 of 81 (39.5 percent) at McKale, where they’re more familiar with the rims and backdrops, in case the conditions at T-Mobile Arena impacted the results up there.

Is Lloyd concerned? If he is, he’s not letting on.

“To be honest with you I don’t, I haven’t even looked at the stats,” he said. “That might sound crazy. I’m going off feel. Maybe I look a little bit sometimes, check in on the overall percentages here and there. I think I got a pretty good understanding for how good a shooter guys are just by watching and being with them every day.”

Lloyd has previously said he much prefers 2-point shots over 3-pointers, and Arizona’s 2-point rate (60.2 percent) is among the best in the country, but he’s willing to tolerate a certain number of perimeter shots as long as they come on good looks.

“I thought we had some good looks that maybe didn’t go down,” he said. “I’m most worried about efficiency and things of that nature than shooting threes. I think the 3-point numbers always worked themselves out over the course of the season.”

Scouting Sacramento State

The Hornets (3-2) come to McKale off a 75-63 win over UC-Davis on Tuesday, a game that saw them shoot 48.8 percent and get 21 points from senior guard Bryce Fowler, who averages 16.2 per game.

Sacramento State is playing under an interim coach, Brandon Laird, who took over for Brian Katz after Katz stepped down four days before the 2021-22 season started due to health concerns. Laird has been on the Sac State staff for 11 years.

Ranked No. 309 in KenPom, the Hornets are not very efficient on offense but don’t turn the ball over. On defense they’re allowing only 23.4 percent on 3-point shooting, 12th-best in the country.

Included on the roster is a minor celebrity in guard Deshaun Highler, who was featured on the Netflix series ‘Last Chance U’ about East Los Angeles College’s 2019-20 season that was ended abruptly due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

KenPom gives Arizona a 99 percent chance to win this game, but the Hornets already have won twice when given a 35 percent chance or lower to win.

Ignoring the outside noise

Dalen Terry, asked after the Michigan win about the likelihood of Arizona being ranked the next day, said it’s just a number next to the team’s name. Yet Terry and all of the Wildcats are regulars on social media, meaning they’re exposed to all of the discussion about the team.

Lloyd, who doesn’t use Twitter—unless he’s got some burners—said he’s been “locked in” since the Vegas trip and hasn’t had to worry about any outside news. As for his players, he and his staff intend to make sure they’re not getting too overconfident.

“We’ll definitely talk about that as a team, I already have,” he said. “It’s a dangerous path to go down when you start reading your own press clippings.

“I think at the start of the year we didn’t know our level. And now we’re learning what our level is. To me, it’s not about the opponent, it’s about our standards. Standards of execution, effort, intelligence decision-making. To me that those are the things that I’ve looking for. Sacramento State had a good win last night. They beat a UC Davis team that beat Utah State, who has good wins, so, they’re going to be a formidable opponent, and we’re going to prepare as such.”