No. 17 Arizona might be more bothered by a 24-turnover showing in the opener Monday if not for the Wildcats’ record-setting offensive performance that included 30 assists and a shooting percentage of nearly 72 percent.
Coach Tommy Lloyd and Arizona will turn the page to a Friday night home game against Southern, but not without stressing the title page should remain the same: Share the rock.
“We probably can get a little more patient, look at that and figure out where the help is coming from and skip it to the open guy,” Lloyd said. “I love assists. I think assists create easy baskets. It’s not something we talk about on a day-to-day basis, but I think our guys for the most part believe in playing team basketball and sharing. I think they really enjoy making that extra pass and getting an open shot.”
Still stacked after a series of offseason defections to the NBA, Arizona (33-4 last season) featured stars and depth in one 40-minute span to smack Nicholls State by 42 points in the opener. Azuolas Tubelis scored 20 of his 23 points in the first half, Pelle Larsson had a double-double, and Arizona set a school record for shooting percentage in a 117-75 victory.
The Wildcats produced their highest point total in a game since a 127-99 win over Arizona State on Jan. 15, 1998, and they hit 11 of 18 attempts from 3-point range.
Lloyd said of the impressive point tally, “I think our opponent had a lot to do with that today, and they wanted to get up and down. And you guys know, I’m more than comfortable to get up and down. For me, I think it’s really going to reinforce that when you play with fundamentals and do things the right way, we can be really, really good.”
Arizona used 17 players, with walk-on Jordan Mains making a layup with 30 seconds left to push the Wildcats to the school-shooting-percentage record.
Southern, which is coming off a 66-56 setback at UNLV, will face a sizable task in slowing the Wildcats on Friday. The Jaguars were paced by Bryson Etienne’s 25 points and six 3-pointers on Monday, but they shot 35.8 percent and committed 28 turnovers.
Giveaways were the undoing of Southern, which trailed by three early in the second half before falling behind 63-46 with eight minutes to play.
Etienne, a transfer from Texas Southern, averaged 8.8 points last season but looked capable of carrying the offense on Monday night.
Former Kentucky forward Sean Woods coaches the Jaguars, and he restocked his roster with junior college transfers in the offseason. The Jaguars led the SWAC in scoring at 71.9 points per game last season.
“I love this team,” Woods said. “They come to work every day, and they bring enthusiasm and passion day in and day out.”
Friday’s game is part of a six-game road trip to begin the season for Southern, including two games at the Emerald Coast Classic in Niceville, Fla.
Arizona will host Utah Tech next Thursday before heading to Hawaii, where a first-round Maui Classic matchup with Cincinnati awaits.
–Field Level Media