The Arizona Wildcats are still more than a month away from the start of the 2021-22 season, but fans will be able to catch a glimpse of this year’s team on Saturday during the annual Red-Blue Team Fight at McKale Center.
The Red-Blue Game did not take place in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions, and this event will mark the first time fans have been able to watch the UA at McKale since March 7, 2020.
Here’s what to watch out for on Saturday afternoon:
Some old faces, many new faces
Arizona returns six scholarship players from a year ago, five of whom saw regular action. Forward Azuolas Tubelis is the leading scorer and rebounder to return, averaging 12.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, with guard Kerr Kriisa’s 2.4 assists per game to the best of those who return.
To Bennedict mathurin is the best returning shooter, having hit 41.8 percent of his 3-point attempts, while the center Christian koloko he was the best shot blocker at 1.3 per game. Also the back is wing Dale terry, who did a bit of everything and is expected to make a big leap in production in his sophomore year of college.
The Wildcats added six scholarship players, four by transfer. guard Justin kier comes from Georgia, where he averaged 9.5 points in his only season with the Bulldogs after playing George Mason from 2016-20.
Kier is a transferred graduate as is forward Kim Aiken Jr., who in fact became engaged to the AU twice after leaving eastern Washington. He originally got engaged to the Wildcats just before Miller was fired, then changed his mind and was transferred to Washington state, but after not being admitted to his graduate program, he chose Arizona again. Aiken, who averaged 10.3 points and 7.6 rebounds in three seasons at EWU, is the only player on the UA roster with NCAA Tournament experience after starting against Kansas in the first round of the 2021 tournament.
The other transfer guard Pelle larsson, who in his only season in Utah started 18 games and hit 46.3 percent of his 3s, and the 7-foot, 260-pound center Oumar Balloon, who followed Tommy lloyd de Gonzaga where he appeared in 24 games over two seasons.
Arizona only signed two freshmen in the class of 2021, bringing in guards Shane nowell from Seattle and Honey for man from France.
An unfinished project
Arizona just started official preseason practice on Tuesday, so it will be difficult to really assess what this team looks like from practice. Lloyd said Wednesday that he has installed his offense and base defense so far, but there is still a lot more implementation to do before the Nov. 1 exhibition against Chico State.
“It will be a great introduction to this team,” he said. “This team has a lot of personality, it has guys who are very excited to play for Arizona. Whatever happens on Saturday it will be a great teaching tool for our staff to help the players. “
Lloyd said he may not have two defined teams for the game, but will probably choose to mix and match so he doesn’t wear anyone out.
“We have to see what kind of shape we are in,” he said. “Right now we have some guys hit so their numbers are a little low, so six guys playing 24 minutes is a lot right now. We’ll probably split that up a little bit, we’ll probably play a half where the teams are, in quotes, pretty even and we’ll probably play a half where it’s leaning more to one side just to see how the guys play. “
The only scholarship player not expected to play is Larsson, who is recovering from surgery to repair a Jones fracture in his right foot.
Lloyd hopes to play at a very fast pace in Arizona, something the previous coach Sean Miller He also said, but he rarely did. Although it is a game, it will be interesting to see how quickly the Wildcats get the ball onto the court and if they can keep up.
“When you’re really doing it, and teams have a transitional defensive plan and they’re pulling presses, things like that, it’s tough and it takes a lot of effort and a lot of energy,” he said. “You almost have to be relentless. I’ve been happy with the pace that we play, but I’m sure what’s going to happen … I mean, I don’t have a crystal ball, but I’m sure on Saturday you’ll see some of that and you will see other possessions where you just Watertight because they’re tired or lazy or whatever happened. “
Arizona ranked 198th out of 357 teams at adjusted tempo last season, averaging 67.7 possessions per 40 minutes, and never played faster than the 2019-20 team’s 69.3 possessions per 40 pace Nico Mannion, Josh green and Zeke Nnaji.
At Gonzaga, Lloyd helped coach a team that was seventh nationally in adjusted season in 2020-21 at 73.8 per 40, averaging a higher rate in each of the past five seasons than Arizona under Miller.