New era in UA basketball begins with exhibition blow-out

The Arizona Wildcats basketball team opened the Tommy Lloyd era with a display of offensive firepower that charged up the fan base in McKale Center and provided a glimpse into the future of a program still reeling from the sudden dismissal of Sean Miller last April.

Ok, it was just an exhibition game against a Division II program.  But the University of Arizona‘s 46-point rout of Eastern New Mexico on Monday night gave the crowd of 10,540 a glimpse of the potential this team has under Lloyd in his first season as head coach of the Pac-12 program.

Five Arizona players posted double-digit scoring performances in the 96-50 win.  Eleven different players made it into the scoring column.  And the team shot just a shade under 40 percent from the field.

Sophomore guard Bennedict Mathurin led the Wildcat attack with 18 points, while 7’1″ junior center Christian Koloko added a double-double with 14 points and a team-high 10 rebounds.

The Cats also showed their dominance on the boards, holding a 53-33 rebounding advantage.

On the other end of the floor, they displayed an aggressive, swarming defense that forced turnovers throughout the contest.  In the first half alone, the Cats scored 20 points off turnovers.

Yeah, it’s still a D-II opponent.  But the excitement of a big win is what the new boss needs to get the fans involved and provide some hope that the tradition of men’s college basketball in Tucson will continue, following 34 years of nationally-ranked teams under Lloyd’s predecessors, Miller (9 yrs) and hall of famer Lute Olson (25 yrs).

Following in the footprints of those two guys is a daunting challenge for anyone, but especially so for someone without head-coaching experience.  LLoyd spent his last 22 years as an assistant at Gonzaga.

Providing some continuity from the Miller era will fall to associate head coach Jack Murphy, who is making his second tour in Tucson.  Miller spent eight years on the UofA staff before leaving to take the head coaching job at Northern Arizona University.  Having little success during his seven seasons in Flagstaff, he returned to the Arizona program in the summer of 2020.

Lloyd has also added a couple more to the staff in preparation for his debut season.

Steve Robinson has some of the head-coaching experience that Lloyd lacks and has spent 38 seasons as either a head coach or assistant coach at the Division I level.  During that time he has been to the NCAA Tournament 27 times, won 15 conference championships, and collected three national championships.

That experience, combined with being named among the top-25 recruiters in the nation, will be a huge help this season, and going forward.

The other new assistant, Riccardo Fois, was a player-development coach for the Phoenix Suns the last two seasons.  He provides a familiar face for LLoyd on the bench since he spent five seasons working alongside Lloyd on the Gonzaga staff.

Lloyd will need all the help he can get this year as he tries to get his footing in a new job, in a new conference, with a fan base that’s used to winning.  A lot.

The next opponent on the schedule should help carry forward the momentum from the win over the Greyhounds.  The NAU Lumberjacks will pay a visit to McKale on Nov. 9.

Arizona beat the ‘Jacks last year, 96-53.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics/ Mike Christy)