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Short-handed Arizona pulls away late in exhibition vs. Chico State

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Photo by Ryan Kelapire

Nico Mannion tossed a lob to Josh Green for the first basket in Arizona‘s exhibition against Division II Chico State.

That freshman connection was about the only thing that went to script.

Thirty minutes before tip-off Zeke Nnaji (ankle injury) and Devonaire Doutrive (suspended indefinitely) were declared out, ridding Arizona of two of its top players.

UA then got all it could handle by the visiting Wildcats, who led at halftime and for parts of the second half before Arizona pulled away for a 74-65 victory.

“I’m excited to have our first game here in McKale under our belt,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “I think we took the court with a lot of guys doing things for the first time, a group of guys that haven’t done a lot of things together, a couple guys are young freshmen and then some guys who are just new to Arizona, and that felt that way here tonight.”

A thunderous dunk by Green in transition gave Arizona a 39-38 lead with 15:35 left, highlighting a 9-2 run that gave UA a six-point lead, its largest advantage of the night at the time.

Arizona led by as many as 11, though CSU was able to whittle the deficit to single digits in the final minutes.

“I think we had a little bit of an eye-opener as a team,” Chase Jeter said. “We need to get back to the lab and reassess, but our biggest thing is we gotta play hard all game long.”

Arizona struggled at the 3-point line, going 4 for 17 on the night, so it fed the post.

Jeter finished with 17 points and seven rebounds. Ira Lee, starting in Nnaji’s place, had a double-double with 10 points and 14 rebounds. Stone Gettings chipped in with five points off the bench, draining a corner 3 just moments after checking in for Lee in the first half.

UA shot 37 percent in the first half, but 48 percent in the second. Despite being a Division II program, Chico State’s size pretty much matched Arizona’s.

“If you look at our second half, we went 13 to 21 from the line and we took only five 3s with three turnovers,” Miller said. “So we were getting the ball close to the basket, we drove it, they fouled us more. We were much more efficient and I think that’s something that a team like ours can really benefit and learn from because shot selection is big. You take a bad shot, it’s almost like a turnover.”

Mannion swished a couple late free throws to finish with 10 points on 3-of-11 shooting to go along with six assists, five rebounds, and five turnovers. The Wildcats committed nine turnovers in the first half and 12 for the game.

That early carelessness plus 10 3s by Chico State helped the visiting Wildcats hang around.

“I’d like to give Chico State a lot of credit, their defense is good, but some of those turnovers, we had just bad play,” Miller said. “And the one striking statistic is 10 made 3s against our defense. We had some lackadaisical closeouts, we had some guys overhelping...so we want be better defending the 3-point line.”

Max Hazzard nailed a pull-up at the elbow and Dylan Smith drove for an and-one in transition to push Arizona’s lead to 57-46 with 6:51 left in the second half, his only bucket of the night. He started at the 2 alongside Mannion, Green, Lee and Jeter.

Hazzard finished with eight points, including a pair of triples.

Though Green had a few acrobatic dunks, he otherwise looked uncomfortable and out of control when driving to the rim, posting 11 points (on seven shots), one rebound, three turnovers, and zero assists in 27 minutes. He made four late free throws to push him into double figures.

“He’s just learning the game,” Miller said. “Josh Green has missed a lot of time over the last year and a half. He had two shoulder surgeries that, in essence, sidelined him from playing the game for about eight months. ... So some of it is just him getting into his rhythm. He’s healthy now, but he’s really come on strong the last two weeks.”

Fellow freshman Christian Koloko looked smooth in limited action, with four points and two rebounds in six minutes. He sank a mid-range jumper off an assist from Mannion to put Arizona up 23-19 midway through the first half.

Mannion, who was often pushing the pace and aggressive looking for his own shot, only committed one turnover in the second half.

“Nico and Josh are really talented kids and players, but they’re freshmen,” Miller said. “It’s going to take them a little bit of time to learn. They had their really good moments tonight and they probably had a few freshmen moments, which is to be expected. And all of us, especially myself, we have to be patient with those guys and teach them and make sure that they’re growing and learning because they’re going to keep getting better. They’re hard workers and they’re very talented players, but they just showed up here. It’s never quite as easy as you just snap your fingers and, man, you’re good.”

UA opens the regular season Wednesday at home against NAU. Miller expects Nnaji to play but wouldn’t say if Doutrive will be available. He referred to both of them as starters and said Nnaji will bolster the defense because of his length and mobility.

“We’ve got maybe more questions right now that we need to answer, but that’s OK,” Miller said. “That’s our job as a coaching staff and we have to clean a few things up.”