After a disheartening sweep at the hands of the Oregon schools last week, the Arizona Wildcats bounced back in a big way on Thursday night when they beat the Utah Utes in comprehensive fashion, 93-77.
In the team’s welcome return to McKale Center, Max Hazzard and Zeke Nnaji led the way for the Cats, with 24 points apiece in game that wasn’t even as close as the final score indicates.
The UA dominated all aspects of the victory—out-rebounding Utah, forcing more turnovers and shooting a higher percentage from the field and from 3. The Wildcats improved to 12-5 overall and 2-2 in the Pac-12 heading into a big game vs. No. 20 Colorado on Saturday.
While our full recap of Thursday’s game can be found here, and a transcript of what Sean Miller said afterwards here, here is a further analysis of the good and the bad from the Wildcats’ bounceback W over the Utes.
This was the guy Wildcats’ fans have been waiting to see.
Everyone knew how good Hazzard was last year for UC Irvine and his 24-point outburst against Utah was a welcome sight after some relatively quiet performances from him recently.
While there’ve been flashes of Hazzard’s ability throughout the early stages of the season, he truly showcased what he can do against the Utes on Thursday night.
The grad transfer lit it up, using his super quick release and some sweet dribble moves to hit six 3s on 10 attempts and finish with a super impressive shooting line of 7 for 11 from the field, 6 for 10 from 3, and 4 for 4 from the free throw line.
Those percentages are insane, and he easily surpassed his previous career high as a Wildcat (14). Oh yeah, he surpassed the 1,000 career points mark as well.
Overall, it was a great night for Hazzard and hopefully it ends up being something of a coming out party for him. This team is a lot more dangerous when he’s on his game.
It wasn’t by choice, but because of Chase Jeter’s back spasms, Sean Miller trotted out a different starting lineup for the first time all season on Thursday night.
Stone Gettings got the nod and made his first Arizona start in Jeter’s place.
That insertion worked, as the UA’s offense looked nothing like the clunky, ineffective thing the Wildcats have been exhibiting in recent times.
Gettings didn’t have crazy numbers (7 points, 2 assists, 2 rebounds) and while I won’t go as far saying that it was all down to Jeter not being on the floor, there is absolutely no doubt that Arizona was much more effective on offense than they’ve been when they have struggled this year.
As I was just saying, this was a very impressive offensive performance from the Wildcats and effective 3-point shooting played a huge roll in that.
The UA hit a season-high 15 3s and did so at an impressive 51.7% (15-29) clip.
Hazzard was obviously the star of the show with his six tres, but Nico Mannion, Dylan Smith and even Zeke Nnaji got in on the act as well.
Mannion was 3 for 7 from deep and finished with 11 points, and Smith bounced back after a rough game at Oregon State and finished with 12 points on 2-of-4 shooting and, perhaps more importantly, no turnovers.
Meanwhile, NBA scouts will be salivating after Nnaji, who finished with 24 points and 8 rebounds on 9-of-12 shooting, expanded his range and drained the only 3 he took.
There were a lot of doubts about the Wildcats’ offense after the Oregon State game, and rightfully so, but Thursday night against the Utes showed that this team DOES have the ability to create and knock down quality shots—even from deep.
Now they just need to do it against better opposition (as well as on the road).
There weren’t too many negative for the Wildcats on Thursday night, but this was definitely one of them.
The Utes really struggled offensively in the first half against the Wildcats but improved in the second thanks to a plethora of pick-and-roll action (they shot 40% from the field and 18.2% from 3 in the first half compared to 46.9% and 47.1% in the second).
Utah continuously called for high ball screens, either at the top of the key or on the wing and were able to punish Arizona’s defense by doing so.
They actually outscored the UA in the second half (49-41) and there were too many times that the Utes got open 3s or even easy dunks because of lackluster pick-and-roll defense.
If they truly want to become an elite team, this aspect of the Wildcats’ D will have to improve going forward, or teams are going to keep honing in on it.
Jemarl Baker Jr.
I don’t want to be too critical of Baker, but out of all the Wildcats’ rotation guys, he probably struggled the most on Thursday night.
The Kentucky transfer finished with 5 points and 4 assists in 18 minutes of action, and was just 2 for 8 from the field and 1 for 3 from 3.
His jump shot is definitely off at the moment, and with the way Hazzard was shooting the ball against the Utes, Baker’s struggles were even more glaring.
One of those two guards was always going to emerge as more of a factor over the course of the season, and Baker will have to get things going if he doesn’t want to fall further down Sean Miller’s rotation.
Yes, he was genuinely hurt for the game and is now day to day with back problems, but there is no doubting that Jeter was falling out of favor before the injury.
Fans were angry at the senior after he pulled down just two rebounds during the Oregon trip and the Cats’ offensive explosion against Utah without him will only add fuel to the fire.
With the continuing emergence of both Gettings and Christian Koloko and Ira Lee beginning to contribute as well, something needs to change for Jeter. Quickly.