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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


MBB game preview: No.6 Arizona vs. Washington State

Nathanial Stenchever

Tommy Lloyd. head coach of the Arizona men’s basketball team, points during a game on Nov. 17, 2022, in McKale Center. The Wildcats won their third game against Utah Tech University 104-77.

The Arizona men’s basketball team will travel to Pullman, Washington, to square off against Washington State University. Thursday will be the regular season finale between the schools as the Wildcats will look to rebound after a horrific performance three weeks ago. 

The first meeting had Wildcat fans in unfamiliar territory. Head coach Tommy Lloyd had no answers as his group looked disconnected on the defensive end, a critical reason for the blowout loss. On the bright side, the last eight minutes were promising as the Wildcats cut their deficit to five points. However, the Cougars won 74-61, ending the Wildcats 28-game winning streak in McKale Center. The loss was the worst performance in the Tommy Lloyd era, and even fans felt the misery. Many ended up making their way to the exits midway through the second half as the Cougars led by 18 points. 

There is reason for Arizona fans to feel hopeful for round two against Kyle Smith’s team. Last weekend, the Wildcat defense seemed to take a leap forward. 

RELATED: Three takeaways from No.6 Arizona MBB win against No. 8 UCLA

“We had a great weekend; we played well at home,” Lloyd said. “We are excited to get on the road and keep building. It’s going to be a challenge.” 

Against the Los Angeles schools, the defense limited opponents under 70 points in each game. The impressive defensive numbers are primarily a result of the slight lineup adjustments. Last weekend, there were fewer combinations of Azuolas Tubelis and Oumar Ballo playing together. Also, Cedric Henderson was inserted into the starting lineup for Pelle Larsson. The move was encouraged by Larsson despite Lloyd taking the initiative.

Coincidentally, there is no better team to continue utilizing smaller lineups against than the Cougars. About three weeks ago, Mouhamed Gueye let the Arizona coaching staff know why with his 24 point and 14 rebound performance. The 6-foot-11 forward exposed Arizona’s frontcourt, forcing them to defend away from the basket. 

As offensively gifted as Ballo and Tubelis are, they can be challenged when guarding forwards who can stretch the floor. The Cougar offense is run through their shooters with Justin Powell and Jabe Mullins.

“They are a great 3-point shooting team, they have great shooters,” Lloyd said. “They present a lot of problems, and we will hopefully play much tougher than last time.” 

The Cougars were 7 for 15 shooting the ball from 3-point range in the first half in McKale Center. Finding a way to limit the open looks from the perimeter will surely be atop the Arizona scouting report. Lloyd will likely opt for his smaller lineups, having Larsson play the four to help counter the athleticism and shooting-happy Cougars. 

The Wildcats have only lost twice in the last ten meetings against the Cougars. Arizona’s last trip to Beasley Coliseum was in February 2022, resulting in a 72-60 victory. The 12-point win saw plenty of support from the reserves, accounting for 22 points. As a team Arizona was efficient from the field, shooting 49% while connecting on over 40% of shots from the perimeter. 

The Wildcats enter Thursday’s game with a 6-3 record in Pac-12 play, while the Cougars have a 4-6 record. The game can be found live on FS1 at 9:00 p.m.

Follow Aidan Alperstein on Twitter

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