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Arizona Men’s Basketball Insider Previews the Washington/Arizona Game

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Arizona comes into Pac 12 Play at 6-0

NCAA Basketball: Roman Main Event Championship
PG Kerr Kriisa will be challenged by UW’s Pressure Defense
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Huskies are kicking off Pac-12 play in the desert against a Red-Hot Arizona Wildcats team Thursday night at the McKale Center at 5:30 pm Pacific. Thursday will also kick off a difficult 3-game stretch against top-15 ranked opponents (#11 Arizona, #5 UCLA and #3 Gonzaga).

Arizona (6-0) is coming off a 46 point win over Sacramento State and a pair of impressive victories over Wichita State and Michigan in Vegas. Arizona is now led by former Gonzaga Assistant Tommy Lloyd and has his team averaging 91.5 ppg and 3rd in the nation in rebounding at 46 rpg so far.

To find out more about what has helped Arizona get off to a hot start and what to expect on Thursday Night’s game, we reached out to Brian Pedersen of SB Nation sister site AZ Desert Swarm. You can also check out Tom’s responses to Brian’s questions here.

Washington Fans are pretty familiar with Gonzaga and their style of play in the last 20+ years but from an on-court perspective, What’s been the biggest difference between a Sean Miller Coached Arizona Team and a Tommy Lloyd Arizona team?

AZ Desert Swarm- “The biggest difference so far is that the offense is incredibly free-flowing and intent on getting the ball up the court as quickly as possible. Miller liked to do that, too, but if he couldn’t get a transition basket he ran offense and a lot of times Arizona would end up settling for a bad shot late in the clock.

Tommy Lloyd doesn’t run plays, at least not for specific guys. It’s a lot of ball screens and keeping the ball moving around to create a mismatch or opening. And the bigs run, too, which is a huge element so far.

Defensively, Miller was more of a pack line coach while Lloyd trusts his bigs to protect the rim if they get past the guards, so those guards can pressure the ball on the perimeter.”

NCAA Basketball: Washington at Arizona Rebecca Sasnett-USA TODAY Sports

Terrell Brown only spent one year at Arizona and didn’t get the chance to play in front of Arizona fans due to Covid restrictions. What was Terrell Brown’s game like at Arizona and how will Arizona fans welcome him on Thursday?

AZ Desert Swarm- “I think Brown came to Tucson to be part of an NCAA tourney team for the first time, and he was willing to take on a much smaller role for that to happen. He had a couple good games here but never really seemed to find a rhythm, whether it be as a starter or coming off the bench.

Expect him to get some decent applause from the McKale Center crowd during introductions, but after that he reverts to being an enemy.”

Christian Koloko is off to a great start (16.2 ppg and 7.5 rpg) and an early candidate for most improved player in the conference. His performance against Michigan and Hunter Dickinson was very impressive and seems like he is doing it every game. What has changed since last year and what has he improved on the most?

AZ Desert Swarm- “This is the player Sean Miller kept telling us he could be, but the shutdown in the spring and summer of 2020 probably impacted him more than any other UA player because he didn’t have access to all the strength and conditioning resources.

Now much stronger, he’s also far more confident and willing to be aggressive without fear of being outmatched. He’s also become a much better shooter and has developed an unguardable hook shot.”

It seems like PG Kerr Kriisa is an X-Factor for Arizona’s success this season and he is sporting a very high Assist to Turnover Ratio so far. Has he had much success against pressure defenses and will UW’s full court pressure be a cause for concern Thursday?

AZ Desert Swarm- “The few times Arizona has been pressed it hasn’t worked because all the ball handlers are quick to move it up the court, whether that be Kriisa, Dalen Terry, Benn Mathurin, Justin Kier or Pelle Larsson.

As for Kriisa, he’s the emotional leader and his energy is contagious. He, like almost everyone on this team, is always looking to pass to someone more open, thus why Arizona has an assist rate over 80%.”

From an outsider perspective, it seems like Mathurin, Tubelis and Koloko are the most dangerous players on the court. Who should UW be most worried about taking over if they get going?

AZ Desert Swarm- “Pick your poison, to be honest. Mathurin can be streaky, but when he gets hot it lasts for a while.

Koloko and Tubelis are a very good 1-2 duo, with the former also a tremendous shot blocker and the latter a great open-court big man. Arizona will look to feed them early and often in order to draw fouls and force Washington out of its game plan.”

Prediction: Arizona hasn’t appeared to be in many close games so far this year. What are the chances of this game coming down to the wire like last season’s finale game or will this be a comfortable win for the Wildcats to open up Pac 12 Play?

(DraftKings Betting Line: Washington Huskies +17)

AZ Desert Swarm- “Arizona’s two most notable flaws so far are taking care of the ball and falling into the occasional lull on offense where it settles for 3s. Both caused the Wildcats to blow a lead against Wichita in regulation, and nearly again in overtime.

Washington’s best hope is to create live-ball turnovers and get back on defense to prevent Arizona from running.

But even if those things happen the Wildcats should win by 15 or more.”