Arizona – not a shocker – is 3-0 in this young season and playing like a team that enjoys the presence of its new coach, the style he likes to play in and each other’s skill sets.
They’ve won in dominating fashion – a trifecta in blowouts. Tuesday night was no different in beating visiting – and tired – North Dakota State, 97-45.
Still, there’s plenty of improvement to get to, after all the competition hasn’t been up to speed. At least not Arizona’s speed.
“Where I want to see them improve is to understand why we’re having success and double down on the reasons we’re having success,” Lloyd said. “That’s the biggest thing. This is how we play – unselfishness, great energy, great toughness. “I told them, you can be nice guys and still kick ass.”
Arizona can check the box that reads: kick ass, too. But the aforementioned three of unselfishness, great energy and great toughness are very apparent.
Lloyd could have easily added defense.
Arizona limited the Bison to 26 percent from the floor and created 17 turnovers, which led to 21 points.
Clearly, NDSU was overmatched.
And while everyone wants to talk about Arizona’s offense – run and stun – as it is, I wanted to talk about its defense. It can extend on the perimeter (and does), it can pressure full court (and did), it can create shot-clock violations (it had one) and it can pressure teams into bad shots (NDSU had plenty).
“There’s a formula to being a great team and making runs in tournaments,” Lloyd said, when I asked about what he hopes his defense can accomplish. “You wanna be a top 20 defense and a top 20 offense.”
He then waxed poetic on how his former team at Gonzaga found a secret sauce in its success through defense – after years of success with its offense.
Play hard, have toughness and with great energy. Check, check, check.
“It’s inspiring how the guys are playing,” Lloyd said.
He also went realistic saying he didn’t need anyone “to anoint” his team the 90s Detroit Pistons.
“But they are on their way to being a great defensive team,” he said. “There’s nothing (wrong) with that being your calling card.”
Lloyd went as far as crediting former coach Sean Miller in laying the foundation by coaching defense and there has “been some carry over.”
Now, Tommy Lloyd has adjusted with his personnel – use its athletic ability on the perimeter to extend teams when they start their offense and if – if – they get by those guys you have a couple of 7-footers in Christian Koloko and Oumar Ballo who can help fix the mistakes.
“Rim protection is huge and it’s not (about) blocked shots,” Lloyd said. “It’s rim protection, but if that guard breaks through your first line of defense, and he starts to get downhill you make him shoot over the 7-footer. And, I believe in our other guys are contesting shots. They can contest shots. Those guys are 6-7, 6-8, 6-10 … Kerr (Kriisa) is the only small guy we’ve got and he’s scrappy. So, we got we got a good defensive makeup.”
It allows Arizona the opportunity to be aggressive when it’s all pulled together.
As it was pointed out here was a team that just destroyed its third opponent by more than 50 points, making it the first time since the 1996-97 season when it beat multiple opponents by 50 or more. It’s also the only second time in program history it’s done it in back-to-back games, dating back to 1920-21.
It’s also the first time since 1949-50, UA has held its first three opponents to under 52 points or less to start a season.
Makes sense defense was the choice topic of questioning.
“I love it,” he said. “You guys (media) focus on the offense. I don’t. We practice more defense than offense, I promised you that.”