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Arizona Wildcats display new dimension in exhibition rout

Anthony Gimino Avatar
October 21, 2023
Wildcats guard Kylan Boswell will be directing a more versatile offense in the 2023-24 season. (Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports)

The Arizona Wildcats basketball team has played 40 minutes of exhibition basketball, and we’ve got it all figured out.

Well, fine, maybe not quite yet.

For sure, the Wildcats did just fine in Friday night’s 110-70 home win over Lewis-Clark State, an NAIA program that served as Arizona’s opening foil, but we’re not going to make any grand judgments after one game before the calendar flips to November.

But even if the Wildcats were missing a potential Pac-12 Player of Year (Oumar Ballo), versatile sixth man/starter Pelle Larsson and very promising freshman center Motiejus Krivas – all out with minor injuries — it sure was fun seeing the new-look Wildcats at McKale Center while we wait for the on-a-roll Arizona football team to resume on Oct. 28.

New look: More athletic.

New look: Better, more tenacious on defense.

New look: Three dimensional on offense.

All those things, third-year-coach Tommy Lloyd hopes, will make his team more upset-proof five months from now when college basketball will be neck deep into March.

We talk about it here on the PHNX Wildcats postgame podcast:

Let’s continue to talk about that three-dimensional offense. Last year’s Wildcats were two-dimensional. They had spot-up guards waiting for catch-and-shoot opportunities from behind the arc. And they had big-time post scorers in Ballo and Azuolas Tubelis.

And very little in-between.

This year’s team adds a groovy third dimension – the dribble-drive player.

Wildcats newcomers have a bounce in their step

That’s sophomore point guard Kylan Boswell, who can get to the rim, hit a floater and nail the 3. Without Kerr Kriisa off to West Virginia, Boswell will double his 15.3 minutes per game of last season and perhaps triple his points (4.6 per game).

“I don’t want him to pigeonhole himself as. ‘I’m a distributor or I’m a shooter,’” Lloyd said. “I want him you know … to be dynamic.”

That’s North Carolina transfer Caleb Love, a senior who arrived this summer with a reputation of being a gunner who might be difficult to deal with. On the other hand, he might have a big ol’ chip on his shoulder to show everyone – not the least of whom includes NBA personnel people – that he is a complete, versatile player who can share the ball AND make a lot of shots.

“I just asked him to be aggressive and make good basketball decisions,” Lloyd said.

“And he seems to be bought into that. That’s kind of how he’s been practicing overall. … Obviously, he’s capable of doing some great things and I think that that also carries over to the defensive end as well. So I want to see him keep growing there and playing with great effort and toughness and making great decisions.

“Rebounding is one of the areas I’ve really been on him about, and I think he rebounded a little bit better in the second half. So, yeah, seems like he’s going to rise to the challenge.”

That’s freshman KJ Lewis. For now, let’s just say that’s how a 6-4 guard should look in a uniform.

That’s Alabama transfer Jaden Bradley. More athleticism right there.

That’s San Diego State forward Keshad Johnson, too. The San Diego State transfer was known to be an upgrade for defense and toughness and physicality over Tubelis at the 4, but he’ll flash more offense than he did with the Aztecs – and not because he’ll get a couple of baskets every game just by running the court with the up-tempo Wildcats. He’s not a stiff with the ball in the hands, looking capable of finishing or driving-and-dishing for an open 3.

“He’s a very versatile player,” Lloyd said. “I don’t want to label him as just a defensive player, because I think he’s really good at both sides of the ball.

The Wildcats used a combo platter of lineups in the exhibition game, but no matter how the key minutes shake out, he’ll never not have a more athletic team on the court than the last year’s version that overachieved in the regular season and then got bounced in the first round by No. 15 seed Princeton.

Lloyd, again, has all the bigs.

This time around, though, he also has better fits and far more hard-to-guard options on the perimeter and better spacing in the half-court.

“Stylistically, I’m always looking to grow,” he said.

“I think maybe you’re going to see some different layers that we’re trying to add more to our system and maybe play a different way. … But we’re going to play fast, we’re going to move the ball. … I’m going to be on the guys to make good decisions with the ball. We’re going to have disciplined shot selection. All the elements are going to be there.”

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Top image: Arizona point guard Kylan Boswell (Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports)

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