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Caleb Love’s debut with Arizona gives glimpse of potential impact

arizona-wildcats-mens-basketball-caleb-love-unc-transfer-shooting-kylan-boswell-tommy-lloyd Arizona Athletics

The Caleb Love you think you know isn’t the one who ended up at Arizona. It certainly wasn’t the one who was on the court for the Wildcats’ first exhibition game.

Labeled as a shoot-first, then-shoot-again guard during his three mostly successful seasons at North Carolina, Love entered the NCAA transfer portal in the spring and was one of the most sought-after prospects in there. And most polarizing, a byproduct of being the leading scorer on a team that went from being the preseason No. 1 squad to missing the NCAA Tournament.

Love averaged 16.7 points per game last season but shot only 37.8 percent overall and 29.9 percent from 3. He took 7.4 triples per game, while averaging 2.8 assists and 2.4 turnovers, numbers that caused outlets like CBS Sports to describe him as a “talented but glaringly inefficient offensive player” who may struggle to fit into a system like the one run by Tommy Lloyd that calls for smart decisions over flashy choices.

Sounds like a headache, right? Hardly, point guard Kylan Boswell says.

“How people portray Caleb on social media is not at all who he is as a person,” Boswell said. “It’s kind of crazy how social media can have a big effect on how somebody views somebody without them even knowing. My opinion, I don’t think people are ready for what me and C Love can do in the back court.”

Friday night was the first chance to see that duo work together in the U.S.—they played alongside each other in parts of Arizona’s three international games in August—and it was a sight to behold. Boswell was his usual efficient self, scoring 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting including 3 for 5 from outside, while Love had a team-high 23 points.

That came on 12 shots, making nine including all six from inside the 3-point arc. He also had seven assists and zero turnovers.

Love only had six games with seven or more assists in 101 with the Tar Heels, and seven without a turnover. None with both.

“I’ve just asked him to be aggressive and make good basketball decisions,” Lloyd said after the 110-70 exhibition win over Lewis-Clark State. “And he seems to be bought into that. That’s kind of how he’s been practicing overall. I don’t know if we’re gonna see that level of efficiency every single night, but obviously he’s capable of doing some great things.”

Love, a 6-foot-4 junior, has scored as many as 34 points in a game and had 30 against rival Duke in the Final Four in 2022. He’s also had 12 games where he’s taken at least 12 3-pointers, only twice shooting better than 40 percent in those contests, and more than half the time he took as many shots from 3 (or more) than 2.

He doesn’t expect that to happen nearly as much with the Wildcats.

“I think they did bring me here to score because it’s what I can do, but at an efficient level,” he said. “I don’t have to force anything. In this system you’re gonna get plenty of shots, plenty of opportunities to score.”

Against Lewis-Clark State, Davis got to the rim several times and finished on every occasion. Lost in all of that launching from deep last season was the fact that 27 percent of his shots were at the rim, more than double that of Courtney Ramey and nearly five times more often than Kerr Kriisa.

Having reliable guard play was something Arizona lacked quite often last season, when the five main backcourt players combined for 73 double-figure scoring games compared to 63 between Oumar Ballo and Azuolas Tubelis. Lloyd addressed that by bringing in Love, after his initial transfer to Michigan fell through, as well as former Alabama starter Jaden Bradley.

Those two, along with returners Boswell and Peller Larsson and freshman KJ Lewis give the Wildcats plenty of options, which means if someone is not carrying their weight they can be replaced. That wasn’t the case a year ago.