Arizona Basketball

Arizona Wildcats meet the press ahead of trip to San Diego for NCAA tournament

Members of the local media, including longtime beat reporters Steve Rivera of (and formerly of the Tucson Citizen) and Bruce Pascoe of The Arizona Daily Star, were able to interview members of the Arizona basketball team on Tuesday ahead of the Wildcats’ trip to San Diego for the NCAA tournament.

It had the old-time feel of when we reporters were provided daily access to players before or after practice when Lute Olson coached, especially through the 1980s and 1990s when Olson was establishing Arizona as a national power.

Here are some of the interviews I was able to gather from the 15 minutes we had to talk with the players:

Bennedict Mathurin

Mathurin was selected to the Associated Press All-American Second Team on Tuesday after leading the Wildcats to their No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Arizona plays the winner of Wednesday’s First Four game between Wright State and Bryant in the first round on Friday at 4:30 p.m.

Mathurin stated the one thing the Wildcats must work on is their communication on the court, mostly in huddles, but mentioned the Wildcats are ready for March Madness.

He said of some in the national media mentioning that Arizona is inexperienced in the NCAA tournament: “There’s a first time for everything.”

Oumar Ballo was with Gonzaga last season, albeit in a minimal role, and of course, head coach Tommy Lloyd has an extensive history of coaching with the Zags in March Madness.

Pelle Larsson

Larsson mentioned what he has talked about before this season — Lloyd connects well with Arizona’s players because he coaches like somebody leading a European team. That makes sense with all the foreign-born players on the team and Lloyd drawing many overseas talent to Gonzaga over the years.

What does that mean exactly?

The general thought is European basketball coaches do not rely on one or two super-talented players but coach multiple parts contributing to the execution, especially on offense. It’s not a coincidence that Arizona goes a solid eight to nine deep in its rotation. Coaches in Europe also count on players to discipline themselves on the court with minimal intrusion. Teams have to become self-sufficient. Arizona has shown its self-sufficiency with how they played against UCLA without their starting point guard Kerr Kriisa (ankle) and backups Justin Kier and Larsson in foul trouble. Dalen Terry was the answer.

Christian Koloko

The topic of Koloko matched with Ballo on the frontcourt came up because of the rarity, first of all, of two 7-footers on the same team. Add to that, their extensive participation (Koloko averaging 24.6 minutes a game and Ballo 15.4) and the fact that Lloyd does not hesitate playing both of them together for an extended period of time. That sets Arizona apart from the rest, especially with their presence defensively.

Koloko commented in the interview that he and Ballo don’t have a nickname similar to the Tucson Skyline of Sean Rooks, Ed Stokes and Brian Williams. I posted before the idea of Blockanda with Koloko from Cameroon and Ballo from Mali, but Koloko is not one for nicknames it appears. He just plays the game, which is just fine.

Kerr Kriisa

Kriisa looked at ease as he sat talking with the media without a noticeable boot or crutches for his ankle.

On the mind of many: will he play this weekend in the first and second rounds at San Diego?

The argument has been made on social media that Kriisa should take another week off to completely heal and rehabilitate his right ankle from last week’s severe sprain suffered against Stanford.

The thing is there are no guarantees in March Madness and Kriisa obviously wants to be on the court. He rehabilitated the ankle for four hours on Tuesday morning, indicative of how much he wants to get past the injury.

Kriisa also answered Rivera’s question about opposing fans not liking him:

Dalen Terry

Terry came of age against UCLA as the fourth option at point guard, scoring 15 points with seven assists and seven rebounds and no turnovers in 36 minutes.

While the fans were amazed at such a performance, Terry sounded like Lloyd has come to expect him to produce like that when it was his turn to step up.

Much to Lloyd’s credit, he got Terry to believe he can handle the challenge by working on Terry pushing the ball up the court following a rebound. He gave Terry the confidence he can handle that task and has not put the clamps on his development by making him think he can only play a certain way. That versality from multiple players improves Arizona’s overall performance. The evidence is the fact Arizona has reached at least 20 assists in a game 20 times this season.

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