The Arizona Wildcats downed the Wake Forest Demon Deacons 73-66 on Sunday in Anaheim to win the Wooden Legacy, their first time capturing an early-season tournament championship since 2014.
Our full recap can be found here and here are some additional takeaways:
The Dylan Smith redemption tour continues
Before the season, Sean Miller said Dylan Smith was one of Arizona’s top perimeter players, likely spurring one of two reactions from UA fans:
- This is coachspeak
- Oh boy, we’re in trouble
Smith’s first two seasons with the Wildcats were, for the lack of a better term, uninspiring. The UNC Asheville transfer shot 35 percent from the field and 36 percent from 3, his shot selection often baffling.
But Smith started to find his shooting stroke in Pac-12 play last season—he made 41 percent of his triples—and it has carried over into his senior year. Through nine games, he is 15 of 31 (48.4 percent) from 3.
His 2-point percentage (47.6) still isn’t great, but it is 15—yes, 15—points higher than last season.
What’s more is Smith has finally seemed to establish some consistency. Smith was outstanding in all three games of the Wooden Legacy, hitting big shots in each. He averaged 15.3 points per game in Anaheim, scoring in double figures in all of them, including a 20-piece against Wake Forest, his highest scoring output in a UA uniform.
He only needed nine shots to do it and swished four 3s.
“I just take the shots that come to me,” Smith said. “I’m not trying to force nothing out there.”
It is just the third time in his UA career that Smith has scored in double figures in three straight games. His 20 points buoyed Arizona on a rare night when Nico Mannion, Josh Green and Zeke Nnaji all failed to scored in double figures.
“When I got on campus in June, I was hired pretty late in like the process in June, Dylan was the only guard that we had on campus for about two or three weeks,” UA assistant Jack Murphy said on the postgame radio show. “So we’d be going through these drills last summer and Dylan was the only one that could take a rep. So the poor guy was just worn out and got shots up every day, really did a great job in the gym, and you see it paying off this year.”
Smith has always been an active defender, using his length to be disruptive, and only seems to be getting better as a positional defender. So if he can continue this level of offensive production and limit some of the questionable shots he’s known for taking, he can be an extremely dangerous piece alongside Mannion, Green and Nnaji who command so much attention.
“I think the whole key for not only Dylan, but our whole team is taking good shots,” Murphy said. “We have a very good 3-point shooting team when we take good ones that come in rhythm there through the flow of the offense. And I think that’s what Dylan did not only tonight, but the last game against Penn.”
Chase Jeter got on track
Jeter had a slow start to begin the season, but had something of an offensive awakening in Anaheim, averaging 15.3 points across the three games, scoring in double figures in all of them.
Jeter did it in a variety of ways Sunday—scoring on the low block, soaring for a putback, and rolling hard into the lane and finishing after a timely feed from Mannion.
Like Smith, if Jeter can hold his own offensively, there is no reason to think Arizona cannot continue this hot stretch of offense that has them ranking sixth in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency.
And let’s give some credit to Max Hazzard, another senior who came up big Sunday. He buried a pair of timely 3s that cut Wake Forest’s lead to 23-22 midway through the first half.
Zeke Nnaji is human (and shouldn’t change his hairstyle again)
Nnaji sported a different hairstyle against Wake Forest, ditching his mop top for a tidy ponytail. He not only looked like a different player, he played like one too.
The freshman experienced his first bad game, scoring five points and grabbing eight rebounds in 24 minutes before fouling out with 4:15 left after being whistled for an illegal screen. (It was a pretty iffy call, to be fair.)
Nnaji also had five turnovers, getting stripped under the rim a few times. He also missed four of his five field-goal attempts, including some looks around the basket that he previously had been money on.
If he is at all superstitious, don’t expect to see that ponytail ever again.
Josh Green doesn’t need to score to make a big impact
Green struggled offensively too, with eight points on eight shots, but had a career-high 12 rebounds to go along with three assists and some menacing defense.
Arizona has had issues rebounding—Mannion called it the team’s Achilles’ heel—and it seems like Green took that personally.
Arizona outrebounded the Deacons 43-38 and credit Jeter for stepping up there as well. He had a season-high nine boards.
The week off comes at a good time
It is a very good thing that Arizona doesn’t play No. 19 Baylor for six days. Stone Gettings missed Sunday’s game with a concussion and who knows how long it will take for him to recover. Head injuries are tricky.
Meanwhile, Mannion played through a hip injury that hindered his mobility Sunday, helping explain why he only had nine points on 11 shots (though his seven assists shouldn’t go overlooked.)
Baylor is easily the best team on Arizona’s schedule so far, and it will be UA’s first true road game, so it will need to be in tip-top physical shape to escape with a win.
It, after all, is more or less the same Baylor team that outrebounded the Wildcats 51-19 (!) in Tucson last season.
“Baylor’s a really tough opponent, we already talked about them a little bit in the locker room,” Murphy said. “Coach Miller, his focus goes to the next game almost immediately. And they came into McKale and did some things to us last year that the not many teams have ever done. So we have to we have to get ready, get prepared and get down there to Waco and and show what we’re made of this year.”
That Arizona was able to survive against Wake Forest is partly a testament to its depth. Ira Lee fouled out with 3:26 left, causing the Wildcats to use some extremely small lineups in the closing moments. They hung on anyway.
“We had to finish off those last four harrowing minutes playing small and interchanging lineups,” Murphy said. “But the guys came through and played great.”