Zeke Nnaji led the way for the Wildcats again with 19 points on a perfect 7-of-7 shooting. He has made 15 field goals in a row.
Jemarl Baker Jr. chipped in with 16 points in 17 minutes off the bench, going 4 for 6 from 3. Nico Mannion had 15 points on seven shots, sinking five triples.
Our full recap can be read here and here is what head coach Sean Miller had to say afterwards.
On how Arizona played overall: “We got contributions from a lot of players. One of (the) trademarks of this year’s team is our depth. And on given nights, we really truly do have individuals that are going to have big nights off the bench and different players can step up. I thought our defense in the first half, that first 20 minutes, reminded me of kind of where we were a couple years ago. We had 25 deflections at the half. That’s a stat we keep. Our goal is between 25 and 34 in the game, we had 25 and the half. That shows you we had a lot of players playing with a tremendous effort and also in the right place while they’re playing with great effort. So, I think when you play a deep bench, you can really find that defensive pressure, you can continue to do it throughout the game instead of wearing down.”
On Zeke Nnaji’s perfect day: “I can’t say enough about Zeke on offense. It’s a little deceiving, he didn’t get a field goal attempt in the second half, but he did go to the foul line a few times. It’s our job, it’s my job to make sure that we get a guy like him involved because he’s made over 15 in a row. I think that pretty much speaks for itself. He’s really efficient and strong.”
On if anyone else he’s coached has been this hot: “You know, we’ve had a few. Derrick Williams really had one one of those, I think, stretches in a season where it just seemed like maybe he went something like 16 for 20. Usually it is a big guy. Deandre Ayton was was like that for periods of time. Zeke’s off to a really good start, you didn’t hear his name as much, maybe before the year, as some of the other guys that we’ve had here. For a 4-star recruit I think he’s doing exceptionally well.”
On Zeke playing the 5: “Zeke is a mismatch at the 5 offensively and we’re looking at that a little bit, but our five position with usually Ira and Chase and mixing in Christian a little bit and in Zeke, you have four different players that can do that. I’ll just speak to it a year ago, we had one sometimes, and that’s the worst feeling in a world. It didn’t matter what you do in ball screen defense, it’s not going to work. So we really relish the depth that we have right now and it’s up to us to take advantage of it and and develop it.”
On Zeke not having a field goal attempt in the second half: “It’s our job as a coaching staff to recognize who’s playing well offensively. And when that player has the hot hand, you want to continue to put the ball in his hands in scoring position. Zeke is getting fouled, he’s shooting high-percentage shots, he’s made 15 in a row over two games. Same thing with a guy like Chase (Jeter). Chase is off to a slower start scoring, but I thought he did a great job rebounding tonight. Big guys are like those offensive linemen sometimes. You want them to block, block, block, you got to give them some sugar. And in basketball, you gotta get the ball once in a while. And I think finding them when they roll in transition, not just looking for 3s, making sure that we get the ball to the low post once in a while. It’s important to have balance. So it’s both balance and also if you’re a good player, you recognize ‘hey, Zeke hasn’t missed.’ So we want him to shoot nine times instead of seven.”
On having offensive balance: “We’ll continue to develop that part of our team where you want to have that balance of, ball gets inside, ball gets to the hot hand. And then we mix in 3-point shots with that. The analogy that I would use to our players is, it’s like the college football team that, they look great (but) all they do is pass. But it’s just like, if you don’t establish any type of running game, eventually you’re going to run up against your equal and you’re gonna wish you did. We want to make sure that we have good balance. Sometimes finding the roller, or throwing it inside a little bit more often, I think will be something that will serve our offense well.”
On if this is his best shooting team: “I think so. Back to Derrick Williams in year two there, when we caught fire, we had a lot of guys coming in off the bench that shot a pretty high percent. Kevin Parrom, Jamelle Horne, Brendon Lavender, Jordin Mayes in his freshman year, and then Derrick. But I would say that our firepower from three you can really feel it in transition. It’s something that’s not always easy for the defense to deal this year.”
On bench contributors: “Jemarl played 16 minutes and 30 seconds and he had no turnovers. And he had 16 points, he was 4 for 6 from 3. Both Max Hazzard and Jemarl are really doing a great job of taking care of the ball. If you look at their assist to turnover ratio, today it was five to zero. Very seldom do you sub perimeter players in like that and they play long stretches without any turnovers. It was really good to see. Dylan Smith played 23 and a half minutes and (had) zero turnovers. We had 12 for the game. Again, 12, 11, 10, that’s where you want to be that.”
On defending the pick and roll: “It was the best our big guys have done in a long time. It’s been a weakness of ours. I think that the words that I’ve used with those guys is, it’s kind of a definition of insanity. Doing the same thing over and over and over again, but yet you’re expecting different results. We have to be better in that area. Today we were. Man, our bigs were out early, they hard-hedged. They covered for each other. They ran, they did it for the entire possession. And one thing that I’ll say is, it’s easy to play defense like that when you have subs. You can call on guys who aren’t starting to come in and continue.”
On Nico Mannion’s competitiveness: “Nico has great confidence. And I really believe that the more he’s challenged, the more he rises to that challenge. He had that spurt in the second half where you really see his ability to make shots. He wasn’t able to play a complete game just because he got himself in foul trouble. And then obviously with the score being lopsided, we got him out of the game at the end, but I was very pleased with how he played.”
On Mannion’s technical and if Miller feels the need to reign him in at times: “We want him to be like that. Obviously, you don’t want a guy to pick up a technical but I don’t think he really wanted to pick up a technical as much as the guy was really challenging and he met the challenge and sometimes that happens, but he’ll learn from it. What the biggest lesson is now you have three fouls, A technical foul is a third foul. If you pick up a fourth, it can really change the game. But I want him to play with emotion. We want him to be confident. That has a way of being contagious. And I think we’ve had players here in the past, even before I showed up, that had that. And that’s an attribute you want a guy to have if if he can back it up.”
On how he plans to get Devonaire Doutrive up to speed after his suspension: “You can’t go from zero to 100. He missed games. He missed time for his own doing. So it’s now up to him to integrate himself into game situations. He was practicing. But he’s a talented player and he can help us in a lot of ways. So we’re kind of taking that one day at a time and really relying on his continued development.”
On the defense’s potential: “We’re deeper and with our depth, we’re trying to teach our big guys to protect the rim, go for a shot block, draw the charge, be more physical. Don’t play it safe. It makes no sense. We’ll play a guy with two and three fouls who’s a frontcourt player. So I thought their activity tonight was outstanding.”
On limiting NMSU’s Trevelin Queen to two points in the second half after 12 in first half: “Queen is very good. I thought a couple of his individual baskets, he just really created. I mean he just had a great move on a baseline in front of our bench. A couple times late in the clock he just took the ball and hit a floater or made a deep shot. But our team guarded him. Josh Green’s an excellent defensive player, Dylan Smith does a good job, a couple guys coming in off the bench did a good job as well. But we played we played a lot of energy on defense tonight. We gave maximum effort and that’s what this is about. We don’t have 82 games. We only have 31 we play in a regular season. So we have 17 at home, trying to make every game count and really kind of utilizing a year ago as motivation in a lot of ways where when you don’t have something you tend to enjoy it more when you do and our lack of depth versus the depth that we have, I think all of us are eager to just continue to utilize that to our advantage.”
On New Mexico State: “Great respect for New Mexico State. They’re missing a key player. Hopefully they’ll get him back. Have the season that they expect. I mean, you you want to win every game so you’ll take it, but when we signed up to play New Mexico State, they’re the team that really had Auburn beat in the NCAA tournament. They didn’t just get hot, they won 30 games. A year earlier the same team won 28 games. So they know how to win. They’re really tough-minded.”