Arizona’s offense has been virtually unstoppable through three games, but the Wildcats will run into a formidable Wichita State defense on Friday night in Las Vegas in the Roman Main Event.
Arizona (3-0) is playing fast and loose under new coach Tommy Lloyd, averaging 94.0 points and shooting 50.3 percent from the field, including 39.0 percent from 3-point range. The Wildcats have excelled at turning defense into offense, forcing 17 turnovers per game, posting a plus-14.7 rebounding edge and holding foes to 27.6 percent shooting.
“What I want to see to improve is I want them to understand why we’re having success, and double down on the reasons we’re having success,” Lloyd said. “That’s the biggest thing. We play with unselfishness, great energy, great toughness. I told them, you can be nice guys and still kick ass.”
All of the early success comes with a caveat. The competition — Northern Arizona, UT Rio Grande Valley, North Dakota State — hasn’t been great.
This weekend in Las Vegas will reveal more. The Shockers (3-0) haven’t allowed more than 58 points in a game, although the strength-of-schedule caveat applies here, too. They have played Jacksonville State, South Alabama and Tarleton State.
That didn’t stop coach Isaac Brown from marveling about how his defense forced five shot-clock violations — all in the first half — against Tarleton State on Tuesday.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that in my 25 years of coaching,” Brown said. “It definitely gives us energy to know we can go down and get a stop. Those were big-time plays to get five of them in a game.”
Wichita State made the NCAA Tournament’s First Four last season and is picked to finish fourth in the American Athletic Conference. Tyson Etienne, voted the AAC’s preseason player of the year, missed Tuesday night’s game due to illness but is likely to play Friday.
Ricky Council IV leads the Shockers with 12.0 points per game.
The Wildcats have five players averaging double figures, led by starting forwards Azuolas Tubelis (16.0) and Christian Koloko (14.0).
“It’s going to be a physical battle,” Lloyd said of playing Wichita State. “And I think we’re built for that.”
The winner will play UNLV (3-0) or No. 4 Michigan (2-1) in the tournament’s championship game Sunday night. The loser plays in Sunday’s consolation.
–Field Level Media