In Nico Mannion’s words, Arizona’s win over Illinois was a “statement night” for the Wildcats, who won 90-69 thanks to a stellar performance by their freshman class.
Mannion, Josh Green and Zeke Nnaji combined for 62 points in the win. They outscored Illinois by 20 in the second half of what was a frenetic game.
Mannion and Green met with the media afterwards. Below is what they had to say. Sean Miller’s interview can be found here.
Mannion on the win: “It’s one of the best atmosphere in the country in my opinion. We came out with some good energy, shots ended up falling it. It was a good night for us. Statement night.”
Mannion on if this felt like old times with Green: “I would say so. I mean we’ve been playing together, this is our fourth year I think, so we kind of know how each other plays and know what to expect.”
Green on if their chemistry bleeds into the rest of the team: ”Me and Nico obviously have a connection but at the same time I’ve never been around a group of kids where we’re be able to have a amazing chemistry. I feel like our whole team connects. Not just me and Nico. We all have a bond which is continuing to grow and I think you can see that on the court every game, every practice we play.”
Mannion on why he rises to the occasion in bigger games: “I really couldn’t tell you because I try to prepare the same way for every game. Like I said, tonight shots were falling, felt good, we had a great atmosphere. Everyone played solid tonight. We had four or five guys in double digits. And the guys that weren’t in double digits were doing their thing, locking up on defense, making the right play. So I think we have a good group of guys and we just make the unselfish play.”
Green when asked the same question: “Like Nico said, I treat every single game the same. I prepare for every single game the same way Obviously, it was a bigger team. We wanted to definitely play this game, but at the same time, I think we feel more comfortable. We’re still freshmen two games into our career, so every single game we’re going to get more comfortable and we’re going to trust each other more out on the court.”
Green on Nnaji, who had 19 points on 9-of-12 shooting: “Zeke is one of those underrated guys where he comes into practice every single day, brings us energy. So what you guys seen have seen from Zeke, he deserves it 100 percent. It’s amazing playing with him. I love playing him. I love playing with high energy and getting up on defense and having him just bring that energy every single day, it’s amazing and he’s just a great kid on and off the court.”
Mannion on Nnaji: “What you have seen now in this past two games, he’s been doing it all summer. He’s been doing it since summer, every practices. So I mean to a lot of guys watching now, it’s a surprise, but this kind of what we’ve been expected he can bring for us.”
Mannion on the quick pace of play: “We’ve actually been focusing on playing fast since we got here. The past two weeks, we’ve kind of focused on it more, getting the ball up the floor, getting into our sets quick. And when we do that, we’ve got guys that can make the right play, great passers. So when we’re playing unselfish and playing fast, things go up for us.
“I feel like both of us, and really the team, plays better transition and when we’re playing that way there’s more possessions, more touches for everybody, but the pace ... we’ve been focusing on that in practice and it’s starting to come easier to us.”
Green on how much of the halftime message was about defense: “I mean, that’s usually what it tends to be for Coach Miller and it’s amazing. I love the way Coach Miller’s system works. I love the defensive side of things, so if we can continue to lock up on defense and try our hardest every single time up and down the court, coach Miller is a defensive coach and we came here for a reason, so we love it and we’re all in for it.”
Green on how Arizona was able to pull away in the second half: ”I think every single day of practice, Coach Miller always talks to us that it’s the 10th war. He has different wars every single four minutes of the game. It’s something we continue to work on in practice, continue to push through and going all the way until the end siren. So at the end of the day, I think we came in prepared and a lot of our players have a chip on our shoulders. We play as hard as we can, so we knew when it was time to get away from them.”
Mannion on Arizona’s identity: “Everyone on our team kinda has their own but we’ve kinda come together as one. We’re just a really good group. We’ve got versatile players. We got people that can do everything. We’ve got some shooters, some scorers, some big guys. We’re just all around, I’d say.”