The Arizona Wildcats are 9-0, their best start since a 12-0 run to begin the 2014-15 season. They’re coming off a championship at the Wooden Legacy, their first holiday tournament title in five years. And at No. 12 in the Associated Press poll it’s Arizona’s highest ranking since the end of the 2017-18 season.
But it only gets tougher from here.
Arizona plays its first true road game on Saturday at Baylor, which is 6-1 and ranked 18th. That Bears squad dismantled the Wildcats in Tucson last December, particularly on the boards.
And that rematch will come without at least one member of Arizona’s rotation, as senior forward Stone Gettings is out indefinitely with a facial fracture and concussion suffered last weekend. The status of freshman guards Josh Green and Nico Mannion is also uncertain, as neither had practiced prior to Thursday because of strep throat and lower back soreness, respectively.
“We’re a little banged up,” coach Sean Miller said Thursday. “You have to certainly practice to play in the game, to start, because it’s a team sport. We don’t have a shootaround on Saturday, it’s an early game, so today and tomorrow are really important. We’ve had a unique week of practice. I wish we could have been together a little bit more, these are our circumstances and we have to deal with them.”
Here’s what else Miller discussed in his weekly press conference:
On the play of seniors Chase Jeter and Dylan Smith at the Wooden Legacy: “Dylan and Chase were outstanding in that tournament. It’s nice to see guys that have been here for multiple years. A lot’s been made of our freshmen, deservedly so, those guys have been terrific in our early season. But Chase, Ira (Lee), Dylan, guys that have been here in the past are really, really important to our team’s success. Confidence, that’s something that you earn through performance. And those two guys, they stepped up. That’s what you would expect from older players. Hopefully there’s more of that to come.”
On how Stone Gettings got hurt: “Stone suffered a facial fracture on the play that no foul was called. He has a concussion that followed his facial fracture, he’s out indefinitely. He will not play against Baylor. He has not practiced. He is making progress from his concussion systems. He’s a long way right now from where he was Friday night. When he’ll return … I can’t tell you. When he returns I’m sure for a period of time he’ll have to wear a mask. We look forward to getting him back, he’s a big part of our team. But he will not play against Baylor, 100 percent.
“He got tackled right there on the left block. He got the guy up on a pump fake, and the guy dismembered him. I don’t mean that in terms of a illegal play or intentional foul, that’s not the case. The guy was in the air and he had to come down and Stone was off the ground. Both forces met each other. I don’t think the ball traveled more than a foot. Disappointing that no foul was called, but it happens.”
On who will step up in Gettings’ absence: “Ira will play more minutes. He already did, he played more minutes and he stepped up in both the Penn and Wake Forest game. We already had really about a game and a half without Stone. I think Christian Koloko is that next frontcourt player who will be called on. And being able to play a smaller group, where maybe somebody like Josh could be in with three guards and maybe just one big for a period of time. We’ve done that a little bit the last couple of games as well. Those are things we have to work on. That’s a way we can stay deep.”
On Ira Lee: “Ira’s doing a really good job for our team. He had a couple really good moments in the tournament we just finished. Ira’s a winner, he practices hard every day, he gives his teammates his heart and soul. His intent is always good, he always wants to do well. Sometimes to his detriment, almost where he wants to do well and he presses. Ira’s role on this team is he’s a versatile player that brings tremendous energy and we’re going on him to do it on the defensive glass, offensive rebounding. Defense, offense, he runs the court well. Some of our best moments of our early season, he’s been directly involved in. We’re counting on Ira, we believe in him and he’s a really big part of our team.”
On Zeke Nnaji’s play outside the paint: “Zeke has always been able to step away from the basket. We saw that right away. That was always part of his style, for sure. He’s physically gotten bigger and stronger and I think things around the basket right now … he may be a little bit more comfortable right there. He does a lot of things on a daily basis away from the basket, that part of his game will continue to develop. Zeke is a basketball player, he’s not a big man. He’s not a plodder at all. His skill level, you see how proficient he is shooting the 15- to 17-footer. It eventually moves backwards and that’s something that Zeke is working on.”
On Nico Mannion’s health: “He hasn’t practiced. We’ll see how he is the next day or two, whether he’ll play. I anticipate him playing, what role he’ll have I don’t know. I think he just has lower back soreness. I don’t know how much he’ll be able to give us.”
On Josh Green’s health: “Really, Josh is the same way. Josh has strep throat, he kind of fought through it, but he hasn’t been able to go either. We’re a little banged up, I’m hoping in the next couple of days those guys can practice. We’ll learn more today, we haven’t practiced yet today. Sometimes what happens in these exempt tournaments, you play three games in four days, and especially for young guys, it’s not easy to play three college games in four days. It’s taken it’s toll on our team.”
On defending the three-point line: “The guys who have practiced, that’s clearly something we’re working on. Baylor, man, they challenge you from the three-point line. They’re shooting as a team about 40 percent.”
On Baylor: “I don’t think that Scott Drew or their program gets enough credit. Statistically the one area of their program that jumps out at you, and it wasn’t just last year or even this year, it’s really been the last decade, they’ve been one of America’s offensive rebounding team. They recruit to it, they do it well. They’re incredibly physical. They don’t just do it with their bigs, they do it with their wings and bigs. They beat you up on the glass. Last year the rebounding differential was embarrassing. Any team that plays against Baylor, first and foremost, needs to keep them off the offensive glass. How we do in that one area, who has more rebounds, what percentage of their offensive misses they get back, no matter what team plays them, that’s the starting point. The other thing Baylor is this year doing a great job of is forcing a lot of turnovers. I think they’ve forced almost everyone of their opponents into 15 or more turnovers. You do that on their court, that’s going to be a bad deal for us. How we rebound against their team for 40 minutes and how many turnovers we end up having, I think those are two revealing stats on whether we’ll be in the game and have an opportunity to win.”
“In terms of Baylor, I look at them as a really high seed in this year’s NCAA tournament. A year ago they were solid and good, they were much, much better this year. I think they have one of the best guards in the country in Jared Butler. I saw him this summer in USA Basketball. He comes into this game averaging 20, but he shoots 52 percent from 3, 52 percent from the field. Offense comes easy, he’s also an outstanding defensive player. I love him, he’s tough. They have four guards that they play, they rotate in at those three spots. They don’t really have a weak spot. Five different positions they can all play, they can all score. I think the narrative is out there, they may be the best collective group of guards in college basketball. It will be a real big challenge.”
On Baylor coach Scott Drew, in his 17th season with the Bears: “You could put him in the top five percent, maybe the top two percent of college basketball. For somebody at the high major level to be at one school for that long says a lot about him. What I love about their program is they really recruit in a really terrific way. They identify guys that, quite frankly, don’t have big reputations, and they perform. They’ve mixed in some great transfers. And then they’ve had their fair share of great incoming talent, from high school and junior college.”
On his team at this point in the season: “It’s great to be 9-0, we were thrilled to have won the tournament that we just played in. But it’s just that, it’s nine games. Our schedule will strengthen, we’ll be in conference play before you know it. I think these four remaining nonconference games are going to challenge us in a big way. Not until you fail or you really get that true test of what it feels like to play a great team that you have everybody’s attention. Our team, right now, might need that.”
On playing nonconference road games, particularly with early starts: “We’ve been ready. Michigan a few years back was a real test, last year going all the way to UConn. We want to be a good team on the road. However, this year’s team, we haven’t been on the road. This is a big, big test. I don’t think we clearly understand how hard it is. We’re going to find that out on Saturday.
“The one thing about guys that are playing in college basketball today, they’re used to playing more than one game on a particular day. They’ve played early games. I could make the case that 9 p.m. games are equally difficult. For us, we’ll be home on Saturday, early evening. Wherever the time is, the game, we have to be ready. We have to play our best. It’s up to us to be the most ready we can be. If we’re not ready, they’ll kill us. They’ll blow us out of the arena.”