Arizona improves to 14-6 overall and 4-3 in the Pac-12 heading into Saturday’s game at Washington State.
Our full recap of Thursday’s victory can be found here, and here are some additional takeaways:
Jemarl Baker Jr. paid tribute to Kobe in a fitting way
Baker grew up idolizing Kobe Bryant and said Tuesday that the news of his death hit him hard.
“He definitely inspired me to want to be great,” Baker said then. “And I think watching him has helped me get to where I am now.”
The Southern California native paid tribute to the late superstar in a fitting way. Not by wearing his shoes—though he did that, too—but by putting his team on his back down the stretch of a back-and-forth game.
Baker scored 14 of his career-high 17 points in the second half, at one point pouring in six straight—three free throws and a 3—to turn a 69-64 deficit into a 70-69 lead with 4:17 left.
Then, after Washington went back ahead, Baker confidently swished a deep 3 from the wing to put the Wildcats back on top for good with 44 seconds left. Notice how his feet and shoulders were square before he even received the pass from Nico Mannion:
Jemarl Baker had a career-high 17 points, including 14 in the second half to lead Arizona past Washington for its first road win.— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) January 31, 2020
This 3 proved to be the game-winner: pic.twitter.com/AV2IQt6RUb
Baker finished 5-for-8 from the field with four 3s. His other basket was this acrobatic finish in transition:
Unreal finish by Jemarl Baker pic.twitter.com/BJpMVF5epx— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) January 31, 2020
On a night when Dylan Smith and Josh Green combined to shoot 3 for 16, the Wildcats needed someone else to step up and Thursday it was Baker who had the Mamba Mentality.
Foul trouble was a problem again
Stone Gettings, Ira Lee, and Zeke Nnaji all picked up two fouls in the first half, springing Christian Koloko and Chase Jeter into action.
Nnaji did so just seven minutes into the game, putting him on the bench until the start of the second half. It proved pretty costly, seeing that the Wildcats were up 18-11 when Nnaji picked up his second foul and saw the lead get trimmed to 36-33 by the end of the first half. And that was after the Huskies had the lead at one point.
This came just one game after Mannion picked up two first-half fouls at ASU, which derailed UA’s offense for the rest of night. Arizona’s freshmen are just too important for them to be hindered by foul trouble.
The battle of the bigs didn’t live up to hype
The Nnaji-Isaiah Stewart matchup was supposed to be one for the ages but both freshmen big men were held in check.
Stewart, who averages 18 and nine, had nine points and 11 rebounds on 3-of-13 shooting. The Wildcats put several different players on him, and they all did a good job denying entry passes, frustrating the future first-round pick. Additionally, the Wildcats held Stewart to just one offensive rebound and the Huskies to six as a team, only resulting in six second-chance points.
Nnaji wasn’t his usual self on the offensive glass either, only collecting one, and missed some open jumpers in the middle of UW’s zone, going 4 for 11 from the field. He finished with nine points and eight rebounds, his lowest scoring output since the win vs. Nebraska-Omaha on Dec. 11.
Arizona unprecedentedly survived a 3-point bombing
Stewart’s off night almost didn’t matter because the Huskies were red-hot from the perimeter. They went 14 for 28 from behind the arc, becoming the first Pac-12 opponent to make that many 3s against Arizona in the Sean Miller era and still lose.
Nobody has been able to run the Huskies off the 3-point line lately. They have shot 45 percent or better from 3 in three straight games but managed to lose all of them.
Arizona’s seniors weren’t composed down the stretch
When the game is hanging in the balance, you’d figure you’d want your most experienced players at the free-throw line.
Not if you’re Arizona.
Gettings missed a pair of free throws with 3:06 left that could have extended Arizona’s lead to 72-69. Fellow fifth-year senior Smith missed two free throws in the final 20 seconds that could have pushed Arizona’s lead to four or five and ice the game.
It’s the third time Smith has clanked important free throws down the stretch, the other instances coming at Oregon and ASU.
Washington showed why it can’t win close games
The only Pac-12 team worse than Arizona in close games is Washington. The Huskies dropped to 1-7 in games decided by five points or fewer. The Wildcats improved to 2-5 after losing two straight.
Washington had the ball down two with 25 seconds left and RaeQuan Battle settled for a contested 3 from beyond NBA 3-point range early in the shot clock. It, unsurprisingly, was off the mark. UW coach Mike Hopkins was completely dismayed.
UW got another chance to tie it, but Jaden McDaniels turned the ball over near midcourt with 15 seconds left. The Huskies missed seven of their last eight shots and had four turnovers in the final 5:52.
Miller didn’t learn from his mistake
Miller said Tuesday that he needs to do a better job being more selective with his timeouts.
So much for that. He burned Arizona’s penultimate timeout with 14:28 left in the second half after Mannion sank a 3 to trim UA’s deficit to 50-44. The Huskies hit a 3 on their ensuing possession.
Arizona used its final timeout with 4:46 to play, though in fairness, Baker called it because he was trapped in the corner.
Fortunately, Arizona was ahead in the final moments so not having a timeout didn’t come back to bite them. Still, it’s not great to see that Miller repeated the same mistake.
Max Hazzard responded well to his benching
Hazzard was benched at ASU after a dismal end to the first half in which he took a quick shot, committed a costly turnover, and gave up a layup.
He responded nicely Thursday, draining a 3 with six seconds left to put Arizona ahead 36-33 at the half. Hazzard had eight first-half points, being a dangerous threat in the corner, one of the soft spots in Washington’s extended 2-3 zone.
However, Hazzard was still a non-factor in the second half, going scoreless in seven minutes, missing both of his field-goal attempts. At least he played, though.
Josh Green still lacking confidence
It has been a rough two-game stretch for the freshman, who is now 2 for his last 16 from the field. He had five points on seven shots against the Huskies.
Green did impact the game in other ways, coming up with three steals, but he also fouled two jump shooters and only played seven minutes in the second half, losing his spot to Baker.
Green is clearly struggling with his confidence, evident when he was unwillingly to take the corner 3s that were available against Washington’s zone.
Chase Jeter lives!
Jeter (back spasms) made his first appearance since the Oregon State game on Jan. 12. It was a short one. The fifth-year senior played two minutes at the end of the first half, likely only because the rest of the frontcourt was deep in foul trouble.
Jeter’s only stat was a missed field goal. He got absolutely swatted by Stewart as he tried to put up a hook shot over a triple team. It will be interesting to see if Jeter has a more prominent role against Washington State, or if this is pretty much it for him.
And although Gettings did miss those two free throws, he did play really well the rest of the night, finishing with 13 points and three rebounds, doing a good job exploiting the weak spots in UW’s zone by hitting some mid-range jumpers.
Arizona added a Quadrant 1 win
The Wildcats improved to 3-4 in Quadrant 1 games, the other victories coming against Illinois and Colorado.
It’s a big win since UA only has three more Q1 games left this season based on the current NET rankings—vs. Oregon, at USC and at Stanford—and those victories could be big come Selection Sunday.
As unimpressive as Arizona’s 14-6 record is, it remains No. 11 in NET partly because it has been respectable in these Q1 games.
As far as the Pac-12 title race goes, the Wildcats remain just one game back of first-place Oregon in the loss column. The Ducks visit McKale Center on Feb. 22.