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Arizona men’s basketball opens preseason with star-studded Red-Blue Showcase

Recently retired Andre Iguodala showed he still had some hops
Arizona Athletics

When Tommy Lloyd took the court at McKale Center for his first Red-Blue scrimmage two years ago, he knew there would be some uncertainty from the fanbase about a first-time head coach being in charge of the storied Arizona program. He could see it in the crowd, or lack thereof.

“My first one ... I think the attendance was obviously the lowest we had, and I get it,” he said.

There was no uncertainty this time around.

“I effing love you,” Lloyd said after dropping his signature “hey Tucson, what’s good?” to a sold out crowd on Friday night for the Red-Blue Showcase. “Every night I lay my head on that pillow I think about bringing you guys that championship that we want and deserve.”

Billed as a community event more than a scrimmage—the two 12-minute halves of actual basketball didn’t start until more than two hours after the night began—the Red-Blue Showcase had more of a Meet the Team feel to it than anything else. The players streamed onto the court from above both the Zona Zoo and the south end of the arena, with returners Kylan Boswell, Pelle Larsson and Oumar Ballo getting the biggest cheers, and former Wildcats Channing Frye and Richard Jefferson MC’d the event alongside Road Trippin’ podcast co-host Allie Clifton.

That trio interviewed players before, during and after the 3-point contest (won by sophomore Filip Borovicanin) and slam dunk contest (freshman KJ Lewis defeated San Diego State transfer Keshad Johnson in the finals). They had ex-Wildcats Mike Bibby and Miles Simon on the court for a Q&A and also shot the shit with the recently retired Andre Iguodala, who along with Frye, Jefferson’s two sons and UA women’s basketball coach Adia Barnes judged the dunk competition.

Borovicanin made 14 3s in the first round and 16 in the second, including three moneyballs, to beat North Carolina transfer Caleb Love in the finals.

“I think it was just my shooting night in that 3-point contest,” Borovicanin said.

Lewis’ winning dunk saw him dunk over the 7-foot Ballo, garnering 3 10s and a 9 from Iguodala.

“I felt like Aaron Gordon when he got robbed,” Lewis said. “I’m just glad it went in on the first attempt.”

As for the game itself, Team Blue won 60-48 behind 18 points and 10 rebounds from Ballo. Also scoring in double figures were Johnson (13) and Love (12), but overall the teams were 37 of 90 from the field and 13 of 38 from 3.

“This was a great learning experience for us,” Ballo said. “I know Coach is gonna break down this film and we can learn (from) our mistakes.”

Unlike last year, when Lloyd switched up the rosters at halftime to put most of his best players on one team, the lineups stayed the same the whole game. That’s a pretty solid indication of how much deeper the Wildcats are than in the previous two seasons.

“Maybe sometimes in the past, if you knowy ou’re pretty much kind of locked into six, seven, eight guys, maybe you want them to play together under the lights and get a feel for that,” said Lloyd, who said assistant Jack Murphy put the teams together and he was unaware of who was on what side until he walked onto the court. “But I think we have a lot of options now. So I was excited to let those teams battle it out. And we’ll continue to do that in practice. I know our guys, later this week, they want to do it again behind closed doors with the same teams, and I like that.”

Lloyd said he was happy with how the Red-Blue Showcase went down, but he thinks it can be better. And bigger.

“I know in my mind, I think we’re just starting to scratch the surface of this event,” he said. “I think in the next (few) years I think we can really make it something special. And that’s something we’ve been talking about behind the scenes. I’m happy with how it went today, I’m happy with our fans support, but I also know this: we’re in real talks for bigger and more exciting things. We’re gonna make this a can’t-miss event.”