Southern (0-1) at No. 17 Arizona (1-0) • McKale Center • 7 p.m. • Pac-12 Network • 1290-AM, Varsity Network
G Kerr Kriisa (6-3 sophomore)
G Pelle Larsson (6-5 junior)
F Cedric Henderson (6-6 senior)
F Azuolas Tubelis (6-11 sophomore)
C Oumar Ballo (7-0 junior)
G Bryson Etienne (6-3 senior)
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F Brion Whitley (6-4 senior)
F Tyrone Lyons (6-7 senior)
C Festus Ndumanya (6-7 junior)
The series: Arizona has only faced Southern once before, beating the Jaguars 69-43 on Dec. 19, 2013 at McKale Center.
Game agreement: This is the first game of a home-and-home series that is part of the Pac-12/SWAC Legacy series, in which each Pac-12 team was assigned to host and play at a SWAC school during this season and next. Arizona will return the game on Nov. 12, 2023 at Southern’s campus in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. No cash is being exchanged for either game.
Southern overview: Somewhat like Arizona’s first opponent, Nicholls, the Jaguars excel defensively with an aggressive style that resulted in the second highest defensive turnover percentage in Division I last season (25.2). They ranked No. 4 in steal percentage, swiping the ball away on 13.7% of their opponents’ possessions. More so than Nicholls, however, Southern likes to throw out the occasional full-court press and double-team in an effort to throw teams off.
While Southern did fade down the stretch last season, losing five of its final eight games, the Jaguars return three starters and added a go-to piece in Texas Southern transfer Bryson Etienne plus juco transfer big man Festus Ndumanya. Etienne, versatile forward Tyrone Lyons and long-range shooter Brion Whitley are their three main offensive threats, while 2020-21 SWAC freshman of the year Terrell Williams is a major factor off the bench and Ndumanya is a physical inside player.
In its 66-56 season-opening loss at UNLV on Monday, Southern took more than half of its 53 field goals from 3-point range, after it took an average of only 34.1% of its shots beyond the arc last season. The Jaguars hit only 8 of 28 (28.5) from 3 at UNLV, with Etienne making 6 of 11 but Whitley missing all seven he took.
He said it: “They like pressure, they do a lot of switching. They try to create some confusion and disrupt you with the way they play. They’re very active, a well-coached, disciplined team that will get after you. It’s pretty evident that they were one of the leaders in steals last season, so they go after the ball, they hawk at the ball. You can’t be soft and casual with the ball because they will come after you.
“(Offensively) they’ll look to shoot that ball from the outside and they’ve got two preseason all-league picks with Etienne and Lyons so people think pretty highly of them and they’re capable of having big nights. Whitley is certainly somebody that can shoot the basketball, too. He didn’t have a very productive night against UNLV so that means he’ll probably hit 10 of them (Friday). So I think those three guys are big catalyst for them and their point guard (Byrd) finds open people and he’s a little bit of a risk-taker in terms of the way he plays. But he’s a good point guard that they depend on to get to get the table set.”
— UA assistant coach Steve Robinson, who scouted the Jaguars.
A transfer from North Carolina A&T after the COVID season of 2020-21, Lyons emerged as a second-team all-league pick last season with a versatile, efficient offensive game. He hit 42.9% from 3-point range and 54.1% from two last season. A first-team preseason pick now, Lyons began with 25 points at UNLV.
Henderson is scheduled to start again with guard Courtney Ramey suspended, and Southern’s smaller lineup suggests he will be needed to match up defensively with the Jaguars’ forwards. Henderson had six points in 22 minutes against Nicholls on Monday.
When UA assistant coach Steve Robinson was a head coach at Florida State and an assistant at Kansas and North Carolina, he said he never had to recruit against a SWAC school for a key player.
That’s changing a bit now. HBCUs (historically black universities and colleges) have gained a higher profile in recent years, with five-star recruit Makur Makur famously choosing to play for Howard over UCLA and Kentucky in 2020 and other higher-level recruits also considering SWAC teams and other HBCUs.
“With exposure and the way the world has evolved here recently, I think that’s brought more light and more attention to the HBCUs,” Robinson said. “The fact is that they are an option and once upon a time, they were kind of dying off. But now they’ve started to pick up steam in a very positive way.
“The great part of it is, they’re starting to get recognized, they’re getting financial contributions to be able to improve their facilities, to improve budgets and those things are important. If you’re going to have athletic programs, you have to be able to compete.”
Before the modern era, Robinson noted, top African-American players went to HBCU’s … because they had no choice.
“Some of the greatest athletes that played the game before, we as African- Americans were allowed to participate at certain schools, and had to come through those programs,” Robinson said. “But now that time has passed, and more African-Americans allowed to go play at the predominantly white universities, it’s changed. A lot of the best African American players will go into the Alabamas, the Arizonas, into Kansas and North Carolinas, whereas once upon a time, they couldn’t attend those kind of schools.”
KJ Lewis signed his official letter of intent at Duncanville High School outside Dallas on Thursday, bringing some upbeat news to his new high school program.
A four-star guard who also has Tucson-area roots, Lewis transferred from El Paso Chapin High School to Duncanville over the summer, only to have his coach suspended for the season.
According to the Dallas Morning News, Duncanville earlier this month was stripped of its 6A state title last season because guard Anthony Black (now of Arkansas) was found ineligible after averaging 13.5 points and helping lead Duncanville to the championship. Additionally, head coach David Peavy was suspended for this season.
In the thick of the SWAC race until its late-season collapse last season, Southern was picked to finish third in the conference’s preseason poll.
Coach Sean Woods indicated the sort of confidence that suggests they’ll do even better, even after the Jaguars’ 66-56 loss at UNLV on Monday. The Jaguars held UNLV to 31.3% shooting and outrebounded the Rebels 37-34.
“That’s our deal,” Woods said of the defense and rebounding. “I really like where we are. We’ve got a lot of guys back from last year. I thought we were really really good last year. We had a bad last two weeks and this year is these guys are so hungry. We left a lot on the table and they want to finish the deal.”
4 – UA players on 20-player preseason watch lists for Naismith positional awards (PG Kerr Kriisa, SF Pelle Larsson, PF Azuolas Tubelis and C Oumar Ballo).
28.4 – Average 3-point shooting percentage by Southern opponents last season the fifth-best defensive 3-point percentage in Division I.
42 – Points Arizona beat Nicholls by in its season opener on Monday (117-75), the Wildcats’ biggest margin of victory in a season opener since 2010-11 (a 90-42 win over Idaho State).
Contact sports reporter Bruce Pascoe at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @brucepascoe
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