It’s a new year, and one that we can only hope won’t include many more COVID-related schedule disruptions. The Arizona Wildcats are set to return to action Monday, at home against Washington, which will be their first game in 11 days since losing at Tennessee.
The extended break included players going home for Christmas, but Arizona has been back on the practice court for the past week and no doubt working on ways to solidify their team for the Pac-12 season.
We’ve seen how each of Arizona’s rotation players have performed through 12 games, but with 20 or more to go this season, there’s always room for improvement.
Here’s what we think each of them—not including Kim Aiken Jr., who as far as we know remains out due to personal reasons—should resolve to do in 2022:
Bennedict Mathurin: Score more for the home crowd
At 18.3 points per game, Mathurin is Arizona’s leading scorer and second-best in the Pac-12, but the difference between what he scores at McKale Center and elsewhere is quite drastic. And not in the way you might think.
Mathurin is averaging 29 points per game in Arizona’s three true road games, which is tops in the country, and he’s third in the nation in road/neutral scoring at 25.6 over five contests away from McKale.
In Tucson, Mathurin is averaging a solid 13 points per game but he’s shooting just 42.7 percent from the field and 32.4 percent from 3 compared to 49.4 and 37.8 percent, respectively, for the season.
Azuolas Tubelis: Maximize the free scoring chances
Tubelis is Arizona’s second-leading scorer, at 15.3 per game, and is the Wildcats’ best 2-point shooter at 64.7 percent. His ability to run the floor in transition has led to a lot of his baskets, as well as the most trips to the foul line of any UA player.
But Tubelis hasn’t made the most of those free scoring opportunities, shooting only 66.1 percent. Six of his 20 missed free throws came in the overtime win over Wichita, and he was 2 of 6 at Illinois. He didn’t attempt any foul shots in the loss at Tennessee, but that’s a discussion for another day.
Tubelis shot 69.2 percent from the line in 2020-21, so he’s shown he can be better in that area.
Christian Koloko: Join the passing party
Arizona is No. 1 in the country in assists per game, at 21.3, and pretty much everyone is involved in sharing the ball. Except Koloko, whose 2.0 assists per 40 minutes is tied with Oumar Ballo for fewest among the Wildcats’ rotation players.
Koloko has 14 assists in 281 minutes of play, though that’s already one more dime than he had combined between his first two seasons. He doesn’t get double-teamed much, not when Tubelis and/or Ballo is out there with him in the frontcourt, but there have been times when he’s not in the best position to score and isn’t able to find an open teammate with a better shot.
This isn’t to say that Koloko should always be looking to pass when the ball gets down low. His improved assertiveness in the post is one of the biggest developments in his game.
Kerr Kriisa: Keep the trash talking to the opposing players
Kriisa has embraced the “villain” role, feeding off the hate he’s heard from opposing fans and players and even some Arizona supporters who take to Twitter with their hot takes. And he’s a master trash talker on the court, both verbally and with his gestures, but he makes sure to back it up with solid play.
But Kriisa’s sharp tongue got him in trouble at Tennessee, when he was hit with a technical foul with 4:08 left in the second half after apparently saying too much to (or at least near) a referee. It came right after Justin Kier was called for a foul, which meant the Volunteers got four free throws, making three to to turn a 1-point lead into a 4-point edge.
Arizona managed to tie the game with 2:58 left, but since that was Kriisa’s fourth foul it drastically impacted the way he could play defense. The UA can’t afford losing him in that area.
Dalen Terry: Stay inside the 3-point line
Terry is Arizona’s glue guy, the player who does a little bit of everything and that’s reflected in his three games with 10 or more points, six with five or more rebounds, five with five or more assists and three with two or more steals.
But one thing Terry does not do well is shoot 3-pointers, at least not consistently. At 23.8 percent he’s by far the worst of Arizona’s backcourt players, and he’s only drained 3s in four of 12 games despite attempting at least one from outside in every contest.
Kriisa and Mathurin are Arizona’s go-to 3-point shooters among the starters, while Kier and Pelle Larsson can get hot from there as well and if Aiken returns he can be a huge asset from the perimeter. Terry does plenty, this is one thing he can abstain from.
Justin Kier: Crash the offensive glass
Kier is the grizzled veteran of the Wildcats, a 6th-year senior who is playing for his third program and looking to finish his college career by making the NCAA Tournament for the first time. For him to make that happen, he should mostly keep doing what he’s doing since his play has been solid across the board.
One area where he can get much better is with rebounding, particularly on the offensive end. Kier’s four offensive boards are fewest among the rotation players despite him being sixth in minutes played.
According to Hoop-Math.com, Kier has only one putback basket this season. He’s shown he can get to the rim with the ball, so why not crash the boards when the shot goes up as well?
Pelle Larsson: Stick to shooting
No Arizona player has failed to live up to expectations so far this season than Larsson, who started behind the eight-ball by missing almost all of the preseason while recovering from a broken foot. He seems healthy now, but something has just been off with his game, and he’s yet to find his role on this team.
Larsson came to the UA from Utah with the reputation of being a lights-out 3-pointer shooter, hitting 46.3 percent as a freshman, but so far he’s only made 9 of 26 triples (34.6 percent). He has six more turnovers than made 3s, and turnovers were an issue for him at Utah as well.
Several of those miscues have been in live-ball situations when his decision to pass was a bad idea. When the ball gets to his hands, if he’s in a position to put one up he should, since that’s what he apparently does best.
Oumar Ballo: Use that body to your advantage
At 7-feet and 260 pounds, there’s no one left on Arizona’s schedule as big as Ballo. That means he’ll have a distinct size advantage against whoever is guarding him, and he needs to make the most of that when he gets the ball.
That also means he shouldn’t be shooting from anywhere on the court that isn’t painted. Ballo is shooting 59.2 percent but only 63.3 percent of his field goal attempts have come at the rim. There’s no reason he should be taking jump shots.