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Arizona men’s basketball facing ‘kitchen sink’ as opponents try to slow Wildcats’ offense

arizona-wildcats-mens-basketball-offense-scoring-defense-unbeaten-tommy-lloyd-2021 Photo by Christopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Through 10 games this season, the Arizona Wildcats have faced almost every defense imaginable. And so far, none of them have been effective.

The UA (10-0) leads the nation in scoring, averaging 91.7 points per game, putting up at least 80 points in every game. The Wildcats topped the 100-point mark for the third time on Wednesday, beating Northern Colorado 101-76.

In that game the UA was met with the seldom-used Triangle and 2 defense, one that for longtime fans triggers memories of the 1998 Elite Eight loss to Utah. There was no such trouble with it this time, at least from a team standpoint, as the Wildcats shot 53.4 percent and posted an offensive efficiency rating of 128.6.

“I didn’t have us being a team who’s going to get Triangle-and-2’d or Box-and-1’d a lot,” UA coach Tommy Lloyd said. “I think it says something about the start we’ve had, and the respect maybe our opponent’s have for us that, they came in here willing to throw the kitchen sink at us. And that being said, we scored 100 points.”

A week ago Wyoming employed a 2-3 zone and Arizona shot 52.8 percent while scoring 94 points against a previously unbeaten opponent. Lloyd said the Wildcats have also seen a 1-3-1 zone, a 1-2-2 zone and various man concepts so far this season.

“We’ve seen a lot, but that’s the fun thing,” Lloyd said after the Wyoming win. “What’s really cool, that’s part of game planning. So when we lock into how we think we’re going to be guarded, we work out concepts to play against that. I’m always talking to our guys, how do we want to attack space and how do we want to attack coverage? Space and coverage, space and coverage. And then we drill scenarios. If they’re doing this and this, how do we attack it? And then we drill it and then I think that really helps our guys ... so then they have a toolbox and a plan for when different things come up.”

Against Northern Colorado, Arizona guards Kerr Kriisa and Bennedict Mathurin (as well as Justin Kier when he came off the bench) were face-guarded at all times, while all other Wildcats were left alone when on the perimeter. It led to some instances where Arizona had wide-open shooters on the outside but not necessarily the right ones, with the plan to try and get them to launch.

“That’s hard because as a coach, yeah, you’re open,” Lloyd said. “But I also felt we were scoring so easy inside, let’s not just settle and make it a jump shooting game. Those threes, you miss a few of them and they just kind of get magnified when you’re not being guarded. I thought our guys handled it with maturity overall. I mean, I’m sure some of them ... they’re probably upset they’re being disrespected a little bit and wish they could shoot every one of them, but that’s not always the best team thing.”

Mathurin, who was coming off a 3-game stretch in which he averaged 27.7 points and 17 field goal attempts, was 4 of 8 while Kriisa was 5 of 9 after attempting 40 shots in the previous three games.

“When’s the last time you were literally face-guarded all game?,” Lloyd said he asked Kriisa, and intended to do the same to Mathurin. “It just doesn’t happen very often. You’ve got to find other ways. When a team is going to guard you like that you’re not going to get your rhythm jump shots. Sometimes the offense hits you, you have to find other ways to contribute, whether it’s a transition, whether it’s driving to the basket, just making a simple finish, and probably the main thing is offensive rebounds. (Benn) had a couple of big putbacks. When he was getting those we really kind of extended our lead.”

It helps that Arizona so far this season hasn’t been reliant on one or two players doing the bulk of the scoring. Four different Wildcats have been the game high scoring at least twice, and all four are averaging at least 12.4 points per game, which last happened for the UA in 2003-04.

“It’s good to do that, to have answers,” Lloyd said.