There was little drama in the Arizona Wildcats’ 87-39 win over San Jose State on Thursday night at McKale Center. Arizona led for all but 67 seconds and held the Spartans to 23 percent shooting.
Arizona is now 3-0 heading into Sunday afternoon’s home game against New Mexico State.
Our recap from the SJSU win can be found here, and below is what coach Sean Miller had to say after the 48-point victory.
On the overall performance: “Other than the first seven and a half minutes of the second half, I thought we played really solid basketball. A very odd game, (San Jose State is) so deliberate on offense. And usually when a team is very deliberate on offense and they get down big, you tend to play a little quicker. They didn’t really do that. So that’s why the game feels funny. You know, you’re up, you’re up bigger, you’re really up, and yet the tempo is still very slow on their end.”
On facing a zone for a full game for the first time: “It was a good experience for our guys to have to deal with that. We played (against) a matchup zone for 40 minutes. We have a lot of guys, that was their first experience playing against that type of defense. It just takes a couple opportunities for them to settle in and get comfortable.”
On how Arizona adjusted to the zone: “We made no adjustments, we attacked it properly from the opening tip to the final buzzer. We had 87 (points) and we could have scored more especially if you take out the first four minutes of the second half.”
On Zeke Nnaji: “Obviously Zeke Nnaji was just fantastic. How many players can go 8 for 8 from the field in any game, 10 from 12 from the foul line. And he had 11 rebounds, six on offense, 26 points in only 21 minutes. He was clearly dominant. And he has a knack of getting fouled. It really showed in tonight’s game. He did a real good job against their zone in the middle. His teammates found him (and) he delivered. Zeke’s a lot like Derrick Williams against the zone, he can really hurt you in the high post. But he doesn’t have to do it just by shooting, he can drive, so he’s the ideal player to get the ball anywhere in and around the rim or anywhere in and around key area against the zone because (when) he turns a lot of good things will happen. He had a couple good passes tonight as well.”
On handling the ball: “24 assists and eight turnovers is really good. Especially considering we had five of those eight turnovers in about three and a half minutes (at the start of) the second half. So if you get through that first three and a half, six, seven minutes, the second half we were a solid team and now we have to move on and learn from this game.”
On the defense: “We have to get a lot better on defense. In each game that we’ve played we’ve had really good moments and I think we have some things that we just have to learn from and ... I don’t want to say bounce back from, but really try to look at and fix and teach. You’re still at the very beginning of a season, you (have) a lot of new faces, so how much progress we can make from one game to the next is something we’re talking a lot about, especially with defense.”
On the depth: “This is our team, we have a lot of guys that can play. That should allow us to be really good in the second halves of games, which has already shown up. It should make us a durable team throughout the long course of the season. On different nights we’re not just dependent on one or two guys, we we can strike from a lot of different areas. And as I say that, it’s really a puzzle and it takes more time to get it right. Right now we’re doing certain things that maybe, two months from now, we’ll look back on and say ‘boy, you were a lot different team.’
On how that’s different from past teams: “Last year especially, yeah, for sure. You saw us kind of like a war of attrition against us, the longer that we went, the more it became more difficult and (we) just didn’t have the bodies, the depth. Knock on wood, those things can change quickly. But right now I believe that that’s one of our strengths and we have to keep building that strength.”
On Devonaire Doutrive’s season debut: “Devonaire had the opportunity to play for the first time tonight. I think it’s obvious that he’s a much better player than he was a year ago and that’s to his credit, so we’ll take a little bit of time for us to insert him.”
On the expectations for Doutrive after missing the first two games: “Just to get him in and allowing him to play a role. There wasn’t like any particular minutes other than he wasn’t going to start. We’re pretty set there right now, just our starting lineup.”
On how he’s liking this team so far: “I really like coaching the guys because we have a great group of kids. Great group character-wise. Each of (the freshmen) comes from a very winning environment. Zeke won a state championship, Nico and Josh (won) championships, Christian (won) championships. They’re fun to bring in to a group that is really hungry. Max Hazzard played on a team a year ago that won over 30 games and almost was in the Sweet 16. That was who he was a year ago. So he knows how to win. Jermarl Baker play at Kentucky. So we have a number of guys that understand winning, and I think with that, are willing to do the things that we need to do to be a good team.”
On finding minutes for everyone: “It’s hard because you don’t want ever want a player to not get into a rhythm because we’re subbing, so I think we’ll get that right. We’re not perfect right now on who should be in with who and how that goes. But to give you a great example, I mean Max Hazzard, you look at his plus-minus, he’s plus-38. He plays hard on defense, made a couple of big steals, did the same thing in the last game. He’s one of our team’s best shooters, plays the game with great energy. He might deserve a little bit more. He’s earning, and I think that’s where depth comes in. Because nobody can really rest on their laurels right now, everybody’s on edge to get that opportunity. That makes for a good atmosphere every day. We’ve had some really good practices and I’ll fully expect that to continue.”
On which previous Arizona team this one reminds him of: “It is different. The one team that our team this year reminds me a lot of when Solomon Hill was a senior and we had Mark Lyons come in, we had Solomon as a senior but we had a real good group of freshmen. That’s when Kaleb (Tarczewski) and Brandon Ashley and those guys were all freshmen. TJ (McConnell) would have been sitting out but he was practicing every day. Our depth ended up winning out. We were in the Sweet 16, really close to the Elite Eight. Our depth was was one of the signatures of that season. It’s up to us to make that the signature of the season as well.”
On the slow start to the second half: “We weren’t ready. Believe me, it wasn’t for lack of effort in locker room. Anytime you have a big lead, you kind of warn your team, come out and be ready to go. Five turnovers, six fouls. Sometimes when you push the ball like we do, you want things to be easy. You can push the ball and not get a good shot early. And we weren’t as patient and when you’re not patient sometimes it can go the wrong direction. It’s a great learning opportunity. And I think a lot of our guys will be better the next time we come out.”
On Jemarl Baker Jr.: “I though Jemarl did a really good job. He’s solid, makes the simple play. He’s getting more healthy, by the way. He’s the one player that’s missed the most practice because of his hip situation. I think for the first time in about six weeks, and watching him run, just talking to him, I think he’s, he’s really confident in his running. You can kind of see that, the way he’s moving. He’s moving better out there. Jemarl’s a really experienced player, in a lot of ways, he does a lot of good things for our team.”
On Chase Jeter’s slow start: “Chase hasn’t found his rhythm, that’s on us. We have to work with him, we have to get the ball to him in a good position. He’ll be fine, he’s experienced, I watch him every day in practice. He’s doing really well. He had six rebounds in 18 minutes, he does a lot of other things, but scoring he really hasn’t really settled in and you can kind of feel that. We have to work with him to get him to get him confident.”
On Josh Green: “Josh isn’t that one-trick pony. He’s not just, if he makes threes, he’s good, and if he doesn’t, we don’t get anything out of him. He’s the ultimate two-way player. And he’s a great competitor. He drives the ball, as you saw tonight. He’s made some great passes already in his young career. Defensively, he can guard the ball and he gets into passing lanes. Once he settled in I thought he did all of that tonight. Tonight he didn’t make a three but that doesn’t define his presence, he does so many good things.”
On New Mexico State, who comes to McKale on Sunday: “I think New Mexico State will be one of the most difficult games we play all season. It will be one of our biggest non conference games we play. They won 30 games a year ago. They really had Auburn (beat) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Chris (Jans) is an outstanding coach. We have great respect for Wichita State, and he runs his program very similar to what Wichita State does. Their toughness, their quickness, how hard they play. They take great pride in those areas. What I’ll tell you is it’s going to be amazing test and we have to be ready to go.”