No. 14 Arizona has been all fun and flash while steamrolling three overmatched opponents, but the competition is about to get stiffer at the Maui Invitational starting Monday against Cincinnati in Lahaina, Hawaii.
The Wildcats (3-0) set a school record for shooting percentage (71.7) in their opener against Nicholls, got a triple-double from point guard Kerr Kriisa against Southern, and established another school record Thursday against Utah Tech by making 22 of 22 free throw attempts.
“I think we’re good,” said coach Tommy Lloyd. “We got through these first three games, and our guys are getting a feeling for how hard you need to play. The new guys are understanding that there’s a level of effort and a standard that you have to meet to be an Arizona basketball player. They’re starting to hit that.”
Cincinnati (3-1) hasn’t shown the same kind of offensive prowess as Arizona and is coming off a 64-51 loss Wednesday at Northern Kentucky in which it managed only 11 points in the second half. The Bearcats shot 33.9 percent from the field.
“There’s no time to feel sorry for ourselves,” guard David DeJulius said after the game. “We all understand how big this week is for us and the totality of our season. … We can’t let this get us down.”
Fast-paced Arizona is averaging 105.3 points through three games, shooting 63.2 percent and has a plus-16.0 rebounding margin. And the lineup is about to get better.
Texas transfer Courtney Ramey, who served a three-game NCAA suspension for his offseason participation in an NBA draft showcase before returning to college, is expected to join the starting lineup. He will replace Cedric Henderson in the backcourt.
Ramey, a senior, started 106 games and scored 1,275 points for the Longhorns from 2018-22.
“Everybody on our team loves Courtney, and they know he’s a really good player,” Lloyd said. “It makes us better. We’re adding a really good player to the mix who is an efficient ball handler, efficient shooter, is tough, proven, plays his butt off on defense.”
Arizona has excelled early in the season due in part to a big size advantage in the frontcourt with 6-foot-11 Azuolas Tubelis (20.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 78.1 shooting percentage) and 7-footer Oumar Ballo (17.0 ppg, 9.3 rpg).
The Bearcats have length on the perimeter but will need 6-11 post Viktor Lakhin (9.0 ppg, 8.5 rpg) to help neutralize the Wildcats in the post.
DeJulius leads Cincinnati with 18.3 points per game, followed by Landers Nolley II at 14.0 per game. Nolley, who played at Virginia Tech and Memphis, was an important offseason addition for the Bearcats on the wing.
Freshman Dan Skillings Jr. (4.3 ppg) did not play against Northern Kentucky due to an ankle injury but is expected to be ready for the Maui Invitational.
The team that prevails in this game will face the winner of Ohio State-San Diego State in the semifinals. The other side of the eight-team brackets consists of Texas Tech, Creighton, Louisville and Arkansas.
–Field Level Media