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Arizona men’s basketball rolls past Lebanon National Team to complete perfect international tour

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How good is Arizona’s third team under Tommy Lloyd going to be this season? A lot can still happen, but we know the Wildcats are good enough to beat a World Cup qualifier.

The UA beat the Lebanon National Team 85-71 Saturday morning at Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi, completing a 3-0 international tour that included lopsided victories over teams from Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

Pelle Larsson had 17 points, Keshad Johnson went for 14 points with seven rebounds and three assists, Caleb Love added 13 and KJ Lewis had 12 for the Wildcats. The UA shot 43.2 percent overall, 28 percent from 3, but made up for it by outrebounding Lebanon 42-28 and outscoring a team full of professionals 44-30 in the paint.

Lebanon, one of 32 squads set to play in the 2023 FIBA World Cup next week, was missing guard Wael Arakji, who had to sit out after being ejected from an exhibition against Mexico. But it but still had 6-foot-8, 245-pound Omari Spellman, a former first-round NBA draft pick who played college ball at Villanova. Spellman had 21 points and nine rebounds on 7-of-13 shooting, but the rest of Lebanon was 19 of 45 from the field.

The UA built a double-digit lead late in the first quarter, on a Lewis 3 and a transition dunk from the freshman, and maintained that edge for most of the first half to take a 42-28 advantage into the break.

A layup by freshman center Motiejus Krivas gave the Wildcats a 60-39 edge late in the third quarter, and the lead swelled to as many as 23 before Lebanon went on a run in the fourth to get within 74-66 with just under four minutes remaining.

A 3 by Johnson made it 81-67 with 1:49 to go, the start of seven consecutive points from the San Diego State transfer to close out the UA scoring.

Twelve of Arizona’s 13 scholarship players saw action Saturday, with freshman forward Paulius Murauskas sitting out after scoring 12 in Thursday’s 127-90 win over UAE Select.

The UA had a small following of fans at Etihad Arena, many from its traveling party for the international tour that began last week in Israel. Recognized during one timeout was former Wildcat great (and current Golden State Warriors coach) Steve Kerr, a significant moment considering Kerr’s father Malcolm Kerr was killed by terrorists in Lebanon in 1984.

Saturday’s game was the first half of a doubleheader, with the national teams of Germany and Greece playing after, as part of International Basketball Week in Abu Dhabi. Team USA and the national squads from Egypt and Mexico were also in town for exhibitions ahead of the World Cup, which is being held Aug. 25-Sept. 10 in Indonesia, Japan and the Philippines.