The Arizona Wildcats unofficially opened their 2019-2020 season Friday when they defeated Division II Chico State 74-65 in an exhibition game in McKale Center.
It wasn’t a virtuoso performance by any means from the Wildcats, who struggled at times and who were without the services of both Devonaire Doutrive (suspension) and Zeke Nnaji (ankle injury), but they were still able claim a victory after a strong second half.
Arizona had trailed 33-32 at the break.
While our full recap can be found here, here’s a breakdown of some the major positives and negatives from the night.
Chase Jeter & Ira Lee
It may have been the debuts of newcomers like Nico Mannion, Josh Green, Max Hazzard and Jemarl Baker Jr. that had fans excited before the game, but it was two of the Wildcats’ most familiar players, Jeter and Lee, that lead the way for Arizona Friday night.
The veteran front court duo paced the Wildcats, as Jeter was the leading scorer with 17 points (he got to the line six times and finished with seven rebounds), while Lee played with a super high motor and finished with a double-double of 10 points and 14 boards — which would have been his career high in rebounds if it wasn’t an exhibition.
The pair shot a combined 11-21 from the field and in a game where Arizona didn’t have its best shooting night, the veteran big men got it done inside and showed a physicality that was sorely missing last year.
If Jeter and Lee can continue to play at the level they showed against Chico State, it will be a huge boost for a team that features seven new players.
Experience and Familiarity
Speaking of the Wildcats’ new players, six of the seven newbies played in their first real game at McKale on Friday night.
Five of them; Mannion, Green, Hazzard, Baker Jr. and Stone Gettings saw extended minutes in the exhibition, and while none of them had great games, all of them got invaluable in game experience.
With so many new guys, this team was always going to take time to mesh.
Hopefully Friday was another step towards that.
We only saw the 7-footer for a short stretch in the first half, but the big man from Cameroon looked good in his limited action, finishing with four points and two rebounds on 2-of-2 shooting.
Head coach Sean Miller said earlier in the preseason that Koloko was a player who would take time to develop, but his play Friday was smooth and he flashed some surprising strength when he converted a physical and-one putback.
He may have missed the ensuing free throw, but even in just a six-minute appearance, Koloko certainly made a good first impression.
Another slow start
It was a problem last season and it reared its ugly head again Friday night.
The Wildcats never got into a flow in the first half against Chico State and resorted to shooting contested threes instead —they took 12 3s in the opening period and made just three of them — and paid the price of being down at halftime to a Division II team because of it.
Arizona righted things in the second and made a point of getting the ball inside (they took just five threes in the second period and got to the line 16 more times than they did in the first), but against better competition they will definitely need to be better coming out of the gate.
Another problem from 18-19, the Wildcats struggled immensely (especially in the first half) to guard the three point line.
Chico State shot 40% from behind the line in the game and their barrage of three-pointers (they made 10 threes compared to just four from Arizona) were a big reason as to why they lead at halftime and why the margin of the final score was just nine points.
The Wildcats will need to show they have the ability to defend the perimeter if they are to truly be contenders in the Pac-12.
Everyone knew Arizona’s back court depth would be a problem when Brandon Williams was ruled out for the season with a knee injury, but the situation was made even more dire when it was announced 30 minutes before tip Friday night that Devonaire Doutrive had been indefinitely suspended for violating team policy.
After the game, Miller didn’t say when he expected the sophomore guard to be back in the fold, and without him against Chico State the Wildcats’ offense struggled considerably when Mannion wasn’t on the floor.
While Baker Jr. (seven points, four assists), Dylan Smith (two points, two rebounds) and Max Hazzard didn’t necessarily have bad games (Hazzard was the most impressive of the bunch with eight points on 3-6 shooting), it’s blatantly obvious that Arizona doesn’t have a clear back up point guard right now.
That will need to change with next week’s season opener against NAU looming.
Whether that’s through Doutrive’s reinstatement or the emergence of someone else as that guy, Friday’s exhibition made that much clear.