Not all blowouts are created equal. Just look at the Arizona Wildcats’ first three games of the 2019-20 season to see that.
The 91-52 dominance of NAU to start the season served as a solid debut for an almost all-new team. That was followed by an impressive 90-69 win over a talented Illinois team that figures to be in contention for an NCAA tournament bid.
And then came Thursday night’s 87-39 victory over San Jose State, a game the Wildcats basically controlled from wire to wire yet looked mostly uninterested in doing so along the way.
Other than freshman Zeke Nnaji, who had 26 points (on 8-of-8 shooting) and 11 rebounds in 21 minutes, the rest of the Wildcats combined to shoot 40.8 percent (though they were 8 of 18 from three-point range) and missed 7 of 16 free throws.
“My teammates, they’re giving me the ball in great spots,” said Nnaji, who is averaging 21.7 points and 6.7 rebounds in his first three games, making 26 of his 32 field goal attempts.
A sluggish start to the game for Arizona (3-0) was followed by an even more listless effort to open the second half, yet the Wildcats led the Spartans (1-2) by at least 10 for the final 27-plus minutes and were up 20 or more for the final 11-plus minutes of the second half despite managing only one point in the first 6:30 of the second half.
Arizona led 39-17 at halftime but didn’t make a field goal in the second half until Devonaire Doutrive—cleared to play earlier Thursday after missing the first two games because of a violation of team rules—hit a corner three-pointer with 13:30 left.
Doutrive finished with 12 points, five rebounds and two assists in 16 minutes off the bench. The sophomore guard was the only other Arizona player in double figures.
“He brings great energy to our team,” said junior forward Ira Lee, who had six points and eight rebounds in 17 minutes. “It was great having him back out there.”
The Wildcats went six and a half minutes without a field goal to start the second half, turning it over five times and committing six fouls in the process. San Jose only managed to score nine points during that drought, though, the Spartans unable to use their sizable frontcourt to present any real challenge to Arizona.
“Five turnovers, six fouls,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “Sometimes when you push the ball like we do, you want things to be easy. We weren’t as patient, and when you’re not patient things can go wrong.”
San Jose trailed 43-28 with 12:49 left before Arizona went on an 21-0 run in a little over five minutes, outscoring SJSU 44-11 after that dismal start.
The first half saw Arizona only manage five points by the first media timeout, with SJSU’s Richard Washington hitting a three with 14:16 left to tie the game at 8. Arizona then outscored the Spartans 31-8 for the remainder of the half to lead by 22 at the break.
The Wildcats shot 48.4 percent overall and held SJSU to 23 percent from the field, including 2 for 18 from three. The 39 points are the fewest allowed by Arizona since a 92-37 win over NAU in December 2015, and the Spartans’ field goal percentage is the worst of the UA foe since NAU shot 21.4 percent in that game.
Arizona will likely need a much more consistent performance for its next game, Sunday at 12 p.m. MT against New Mexico State. NMSU has made three straight NCAA tourney appearances and is on a streak of eight consecutive 20-win seasons.