UA freshman Zeke Nnaji was the star of the night, dropping 20 points on 9-of-12 shooting. Our full recap can be found here and here is what head coach Sean Miller had to say afterwards.
On the overall game: “We had a good team effort tonight. There’s always things you can improve, but playing your opening game with only seven turnovers is one of the big highlights. Zeke Nnaji was outstanding. He played tonight like he plays all the time. We missed him against Chico State when he was injured, but you see how explosive he is and strong. And as much as we love him on offense. defensively he really gives us length, quickness, and size and makes us a much deeper team. So I thought he was really good.
“There’s a lot of other players that we’re good. In Nico (Mannion)’s case, to have one turnover and four assists in his first college game, I thought that was a really big thing for him. And all those guys that are here for the first time, they’ll continue to settle in and get more comfortable. And that’s what you worry about here early on. We have so many new faces in new roles that no matter how we play, we’re still very much a work in progress”
On most impressive thing about Nnaji’s game: “Just his physical explosiveness. He reminds me a lot of Derrick Williams because he’s also very agile. He’s not a big, strong guy that can’t move. He’s a big, strong guy that can really move. And the sky’s the limit for Zeke. If you talk to our players, he’s one of our team’s hardest workers, and he’s really gotten a lot better over the last year and a half. Go back to his junior year of high school to where he is today, he has a very, very bright future and I’m certainly glad we have him.”
On freshman Christian Koloko: “I was excited about Christian Koloko. He led our team in rebounding tonight and he played 12 minutes. Not a lot of 7-footers can run the court, catch it like he did, reverse pivot, shoot the shot like he did—a backwards shot around the rim. He’s agile, he’s quick and his time will come, certainly, but I was excited about watching what he did. And when we played him in the first half against Chico State, he did a nice job.”
On Stone Gettings, who had 13 points and made three 3s: “You can see he gives us a different dimension. What you like about Stone is he’s different than the rest of our big guys, and he’s highly skilled, and our team did a really good job tonight of finding him in transition. A lot of his 3-point shots came off of our transition game, which is always a good sign because it’s hard to find four people on the perimeter. He becomes the fourth and he looked very good on offense. And the thing that I love about Stone is that he brings it every day. He works incredibly hard, after practice, before practice. And unlike some of our guys, he’s older. So he also gives us that experience of being a fifth year senior.”
On if he expected Nnaji to be this good: “Yes. I think Zeke was one of high school’s best players a year ago. He wasn’t a McDonald’s All-American. But I know that there’s different reasons for that. ... It is what it is. Sometimes it’s hard to pick right guys, but he’s definitely one of the best freshmen in college basketball. And we have a couple of them but he’s one of them for sure.
“In our scrimmage against Saint Mary’s, one of the things that really stood out is they fouled him 10 times in a game. Saint Mary’s ... are experienced, they’re well-coached, they’re disciplined. Just kind of watching him in that scrimmage, it really set the tone for how we’re thinking about the importance of him on our team.”
On Nnaji’s shooting: “He’s a capable 3-point shooter. If he’s wide open... there’s no reason why he shouldn’t take it. But he’s certainly shown that at times.”
On the 3-point defense: “We made a big emphasis on defending the 3-point shot. It’s something we did not do well against Chico State. When you watch 10 of them go in like it happened to us, I think it got everybody’s attention. And tonight, even the six that they made, I’d say two of them were just really late in the clock, challenged, tough, desperation shots that happened to go in. But we were much more ready, responsible, and did a better job overall.”
On the frontcourt versatility: “All of our bigs, they can be themselves. Somebody like Chase (Jeter) doesn’t have to do it day in, day out. A year ago, many times he would have been our only big, our only low-post scorer. Ira (Lee) emerged as the year went on, but just having the luxury of Stone, Zeke, and then those two guys returning a year older, better prepared and having gone through more game experience. Then I think you mix Christian in, we have the luxury at this moment of having depth inside. But we just have to keep developing them and those guys have to keep working, but I think we have a front court that against a lot of different styles can be successful not just one style.”
On Max Hazzard: “He had five assists and one turnover, which is great. He’s learning our defense. I think the more that he plays, the more that he watches film... he’ll continue to be in the right position. But the one special skill that Max has is he can change the game from 3. He can really, really shoot it. We’ve had some teams in the past that really could have used a guy like Max. But he’s come to us in a really good time.”