ATQ had the distinct pleasure of responding to a Q & A request from sister site Arizona Desert Swarm, and we traded pertinent questions regarding today’s game against the Wildcats in Arizona.
Today’s game will be the first between Oregon and Arizona under the direction of coach Tommy Lloyd. As you will recall, coach Lloyd came on board from Gonzaga after the Wildcats parted ways with Sean Miller, ending Miller’ 12-season tenure with Arizona.
I conversed with Brian J. Pedersen of Desert Swarm, and I hope you find his responses enlightening as Arizona enters a new era with a new head coach
ATQ: The Wildcats started with a new coach, Tommy Lloyd, this year; and while it’s presumptive to make comparisons at this point, Arizona is sporting the kind of record we would have expected under Lute Olson, and to an extent Sean Miller. What was the mood/reaction to Lloyd’s hiring with the Wildcats fanbase? Is Arizona exceeding expectations as compared to the beginning of the season, or did you feel you had a sleeper that has brought Arizona back in the top of the national rankings?
DS: It was a mixed reaction at first to Tommy Lloyd’s hiring, with a lot of fans and alumni hoping the school would bring in a former player like Damon Stoudamire to run the program, in hopes of reconnecting to the Lute Olson era. But it didn’t take long for him to win over everyone, both with his performance on the court and his demeanor that’s the complete opposite of Sean Miller.
As for expectations, yes, Arizona is far exceeding even the most optimistic hopes for this season, but if you look at what he had to work with, it really shouldn’t have been a surprise. All five of his starters were with the team last year, which is almost unheard of in college basketball nowadays, and it was almost like Miller and his staff had recruited this team for Lloyd considering the prevalence of international players. That was what Lloyd was known for as a Gonzaga assistant, and he’s been able to better utilize the skill sets of these players than Miller could with his more regimented system.
ATQ: Arizona has four starters that sport double digits PPG, which I think is remarkable. What is behind this scoring success?
DS: Tommy Lloyd’s offense, aside from being very fast and looking to score quickly, is based on constant movement and passing, which usually leads to someone being open all the time. The Wildcats lead the nation in assists per game, and Lloyd doesn’t call plays for specific players. It’s all about flow and not leaning on a particular guy.
It also helps that big men Christian Koloko and Azuolas Tubelis are both great scorers near the basket. Koloko is arguably the most improved player in the country, while Lloyd calls Tubelis the best running big man in college basketball. He scores almost as much in transition as in the halfcourt set.
ATQ: What player(s) do you expect to be the most disruptive to Oregon’s attempt to come away with an upset? Whom should we be keeping an eye on this game?
DS: If Oregon cannot minimize the inside scoring, it has no chance, because Arizona will go in there early and often and keep lobbing it inside. But if the Ducks can at least keep that from being an automatic basket, then wing Bennedict Mathurin is still out there to deal with.
He’s had 9 20-point games, including 20 against Oregon State on Thursday, and for the season he’s shooting 47 percent from the field and 37 percent from 3. He’s by far the most athletic and dynamic player on the team, and if he goes off then good luck.
ATQ: Arizona has only two losses this year. In your view, what contributed to those losses? Now that Arizona is riding a seven game win streak, does it appear that the Wildcats have adjusted to the factors involved in this year’s losses? Or are there other factors possible at work as well?
DS: The first loss, at Tennessee, was a product of a slow start—something Arizona has had a lot of this season, particularly on the road—and a lot of turnovers, which is this team’s biggest flaw. The loss at UCLA, by 16, was the tail end of a 3-game trip to California over a 6-day span, and Arizona couldn’t make a shot.
Lloyd doesn’t seem to be worried about the slow starts, since it’s evident this team can flip a switch, while the poor shooting games will happen. It’s the turnovers that are the biggest thing to worry about, especially if those happen against a strong defensive team like Tennessee.
ATQ: What is your prediction for this matchup?
Arizona will end its 7-game losing streak to the Ducks, but I expect Oregon to play much better than it did in that stinker at ASU on Thursday night. This could end up being the closest margin at McKale, and the key for the Ducks is capitalizing on Arizona’s slow starts and not giving up big runs.