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Arizona’s Max Hazzard played ‘like big bro’ in breakout game vs. Utah

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Utah v Arizona Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Max Hazzard has always wanted to be like his older brother Jacob, who he willingly concedes is the best 3-point shooter in the family.

“I remember going to his games, middle school, high school, and he would hit one and you can just feel that buzz in the gym,” Max said. “Those things used to always excite me, and you kinda want to be like big bro.”

Max did his best impression Thursday, swishing six 3-pointers in the Arizona Wildcats’ 93-77 rout of Utah. Hazzard buried four triples in the first half, then drained two more in the second half, showing unlimited range and a lightning-quick release.

Hazzard also drilled a fadeaway 2-pointer and all four of his free throw attempts, giving him 24 points on the night (in just 17 minutes), easily surpassing his previous high (14) as a Wildcat.

“Shout out to my brother tonight,” he said. “I felt like him.”

And a little like his old self, too. Before joining the Wildcats as a graduate transfer from UC Irvine, Hazzard had games like this pretty often. He scored in double figures 23 times in 36 games last season, including a trio of 20-point games, and even a 32-point game, when he made 10 3-pointers in a win over Denver.

Hazzard built a reputation as a big-game player. He was the guy who scored 23 points to lead UCI past Cal State Fullerton in the Big West tournament championship game last season. He was also the guy who broke Kansas State fans’ hearts by draining five 3s to down KSU in the first round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament.

When Hazzard committed to Arizona, he knew he would have to make some sacrifices. He was no longer going to be a primary or even secondary scoring option, but rather a role player and, as it turns out, not even a starter.

Having a reduced role has been an adjustment, and the results have not always been pretty. Prior to Thursday’s outburst, Hazzard was averaging just 4.6 points per game with the Wildcats, and only twice had scored in double figures.

Even his 3-point shot, his trademark, hadn’t translated, shooting just 33 percent, six ticks below his 2018-19 average.

But Max, being the grizzled veteran that he is at this point, said “it’s a season for a reason” and expects to settle in for the second half of it.

Thursday was a good start.

“You just gotta stay ready so you don’t have to get ready,” Hazzard said. “I had a coach when I was younger and he always used to tell me, ‘you’re supposed to be good, be good.’ So, I just tried to be good tonight.”

He added: “I mean, I’ve been doing this thing for a long time, man. It’s my fifth year in college basketball. I’ve had big time nights, great nights shooting the ball, so this was just one of them. I plan to do it again.”

The Wildcats already have a potent trio in Zeke Nnaji, Josh Green, and Nico Mannion, so when Hazzard is knocking down his shots they are incredibly difficult to defend.

Against Utah, Arizona—which has the No. 9 offense in the country—posted its fourth-best offensive efficiency of the season. And that was with Mannion and Green being held under their season scoring averages.

“It’s great,” senior guard Dylan Smith said of Hazzard’s prolific night. “He’s one of the best shooters I’ve seen since I’ve been here. When he gets it going, when he gets it rolling, he can ring off three or four 3s in a row. That’s always a big weapon to have when you play in this level of basketball, so we just try to use him as best as we can.”

The way Hazzard provided a spark off the bench is exactly how Arizona coach Sean Miller envisioned things would go down when Hazzard arrived from UC Irvine.

“It’s great to see him shoot the basketball like we see him shoot it a lot in practice,” Miller said. “In fairness to Max, it takes a little time to get comfortable. But my hope is that there are more moments like the segment he had there, both in the first half and in the second half.”

During those segments, you can bet Jacob was smiling somewhere.

“I’m the kid’s biggest fan,” he tweeted. “All I want is success for my man. We been working at this since I can remember, and seeing it pay off is a great feeling.”

Naturally, Jacob is a big reason Max is even a Wildcat in the first place. Jacob was a walk-on at the UA from 2012-16. So when Max had the opportunity to follow in his brother’s footsteps, it was too good to pass up.

“He was a big part of it, man,” Max said. “Obviously besides the recruiting aspect and this being a legendary program and playing for a great coach, my brother had the best college experience I’ve ever seen. And if I could just touch a little bit of that, it’d be amazing. Like I said, I’ll always be like my big bro and he had a great time here and had a great experience, and I’m having the same thing.”