Arizona had no trouble beating Division II foe Western Oregon on Tuesday night, coasting to a 91-61 victory in an exhibition game that serves as its final tune-up before the real games start next week.
There was plenty to like about the Wildcats’ performance, notably the aggressive play of junior forward Azuolas Tubelis and sophomore wing Adama Bal, who led the UA with 19 and 15 points, respectively. Oumar Ballo added 14 points and 11 rebounds, four on the offensive end, while Pelle Larsson had 12 points, eight rebounds (five offensive) and four assists and transfers Courtney Ramey and Cedric Henderson Jr. both showed why coach Tommy Lloyd grabbed them out of the portal.
But the performance was far from perfect. The Wildcats made their first eight shots, assisting on six of them, but shot 41.7 percent the rest of the way, making just 3 of 17 3-pointers, and while they turned 24 Western Oregon turnovers into 31 points they also gave it away 17 times.
Arizona also missed 10 of its first 21 free throws.
None of those things concern Lloyd, though. Not because they came in a game that didn’t count, but because it provides opportunities to get better.
“It’s not 40 minutes of positive things, where every possession you’re feeling great about it,” he said. “I love it when we get a little bit of adversity, because adversity and struggle are great teaching tools.”
Arizona opens the 2022-23 season Monday against Nicholls, and it will be doing so without one starter. Ramey has to sit out the first three games after the NCAA suspended him for participating in the Portsmouth Invitational, an NBA Draft showcase, in April.
“Courtney was involved in a situation that had nothing to do with us,” Lloyd said. “The NCAA has rules, and they feel like it violated one of their rules that warranted a 3-game suspension. So there it is. I’ll let you guys complain about the NCAA, I don’t do that. I just look forward ... it’s going to be a great opportunity for our team, and I’m going to make a positive out of it. We plan on playing our asses off, regardless of who’s playing.”
As for who would take Ramey’s place, Lloyd declined to name a temporary replacement.
“We’ll figure it out,” he said. “I don’t think there’s going to be any major surprises, there’s going to be no games played. I think Courtney’s earned a starting spot. Unfortunately he can’t those first three games, so we’ll adjust.”
Here’s what else Lloyd had to say about the exhibition win:
On Tubelis, who was 9 of 16 from the field and also had 3 steals: “I thought Zu was great. I think he’s got to temper it on defense a little bit. You can’t go for a steal every time they pass the ball to your guy. Maybe every other time? So I think he’s just got to kind of tone that down. There’s a beauty in being aggressive and taking the fight to somebody, and there’s also beauty in understanding that it’s okay to be solid at some points as well. We need a good mix of both of those things.”
On the defense: “We had some great individual defenders last year, but a lot of it was they defended within the team concept and they did their jobs. We don’t have a defense where they need to make up their own rules. We have a very sound approach to how we defend and you’re not going to pitch shutouts in basketball. So I think we just need to kind of clean some things up a little bit. There are things that have been taught but, there’s this great thing in sports called game slippage. You get out there on the court and you have to account for it as a coach because not everything you tell the players are going to absorb. So that’s what makes coaching a little bit more of an art than a science. I look forward to breaking down that film and trying to help that.”
On forcing 24 turnovers: “I don’t think you’re gonna create 24 turnovers a game. That’s not gonna happen. Of course, we’re going to be aggressive defensively. I mean, you saw us play last year, right? I’m gonna not be conservative. Conservative ain’t my nature. We play an aggressive style no matter who we have. It we were playing zone, we’d play it aggressive. And so now we just got to get better. You can be aggressive and solid, those two things can go together. We just got to show them some of the mistakes they’re making on film. They got to be open minded and learn from them. We got to get on the practice floor. We got to drill it. I’ve got to hold them accountable. They’ve got to hold themselves accountable and then we’ll get better.”
On how deep he expects the rotation to be: “We’ll see. I let you guys set the limitations on my team, because I don’t set any limitations. I’m gonna let it play out in front of me and I’m gonna make what I think are the best decisions to win basketball games. I’m not a guy that sits around at night and gets out my protractor and a ruler and three different colored pins and says, well, if you play him 16.4 minutes, he can play—I don’t do that. I coach off gut, I coach off instinct, I coach off what my eyes are telling me. I think we got good, talented young players and I want them to fight for it a little bit. But I’m hopeful they can all help us.”
On Bal, who was 10 of 11 from the line: “He was aggressive. I think he had two ball handling errors, that stood out to me. Adama also has a good feel for the game, so now I think he’s a young player who maybe kinda his feel for the game has carried him a little bit. Now he’s being a little bit more of an Alpha Dog and playing a little bit more of a physical style because he’s growing up. Now he’s just got to find a good mix between being aggressive on offense and also making plays for others. Adama 17 years old. To see him be that aggressive, and hopefully he’ll get a little bit of confidence, is a positive for us.”
On Henderson, who was 5 of 9 from the field: “I’m extremely comfortable with him. I was excited to actually see him in a game setting today. I think when these games start to open up, and there’s a little more flow to them, I think he’s a really unique player. We saw some of that today, some of the decisions, the floaters he was able to kind of hit on, off the ball screens, getting out in transition with some of those finishes and things like that. I’d love to see a little more offensive rebounding and just overall rebounding tenacity from him, but we’ll get that out of him. He’s done some in practice. I think we just need to kind of hone it in and kind of tighten up some of that game slippage.”
On Ballo: “You can see his poise. A little more of his body control, his effort. Just just the maturity of some of those things. He had a tip and he missed today, and I didn’t say anything to him, but then he had a couple of passes late where he caught those high-low passes, which are tough. Those are over the shoulder catches ... somebody’s leaning on you, somebody’s coming from underneath. He caught them, kept them high, took his time, laid them in easily with his left hand, where maybe a younger Ballo would have felt like he had tried to go up and dunk that. I just love the maturity he’s showing, and I think he’s developing into a really good basketball player. He’s gotten himself to a level now where there’s some simple steps he can take that will make him much more effective, but he’s so close.”
On how the younger players performed, particularly together: “Obviously not great. But that’s a good thing. I told them, like I’m probably the wrong guy for charity minutes. Because I think giving a guy charity minutes is really literally being disrespectful to him, because I’m not holding him to a high enough standard. There’s an Arizona basketball standard, and there’s my standard, and you got to meet both, and they’re both really high. And once you do that, you’re going to become a hell of a player. That was the messaging to them. I’m not yelling at them. I love them. I don’t think anyone needs to tell them but they didn’t play great. Hopefully next time they get the opportunity they’ll be a little better prepared.”
On Kerr Kriisa, who was scoreless but only took 3 shots: “Kerr has been great. Kerr and I obviously have a great understanding of what he means to this program. And I think he’s kind of taken a little bit of a wait and see attitude (with others) to get themselves comfortable. I think we all know Kerr is two consecutive made threes in a row from being rolled. That’ll happen. He and I will continue to have conversations, but Kerr is my guy, and I love how he plays, and I think he’s gonna have an incredible year.”
On Kylan Boswell, who played 10 minutes: “Kylan has literally practiced Division I basketball for a week. I know how good he is, I love the kid, but I’m also the first one to temper the expectations. The kid is 17 years old, heis going to be a hell of a basketball player, could be an all-time great here, but just let’s give him a little bit of time. Let’s let it happen organically.”
On Henri Veesaar, who had 6 rebounds but also 4 turnovers and missed some layups: “Henri actually is strong. He’s weight room strong. He’s twitchy. He can change directions, which are some elite things for a big kid with his body type. He’s just got to get under the lights and get a little more comfortable and figure out where he can find his balance, where he can find his explosion. He’s literally played ... two scrimmages and one game against a Division II team in his US basketball career. He never played AAU, he never played a high school game, so we just got to give him a little bit of time.”
On how the bigs played overall: “I thought there were times when they missed each other in some of our early high low action actions that we could have taken advantage. Big guys are going to turn the ball over in our system. You can’t have it both ways, you can’t involve your big guys and have them touch the ball, put them in situations where you are catching passes in tight windows and expect them to play perfect. It’s just part of the deal. And obviously we try to mitigate it, but I also understand it’s part of the deal. And I also understand if they hang with this they become pretty good basketball players.”