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Arizona routs NAU behind Jemarl Baker Jr.’s career night

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 07 Northern Arizona at Arizona Getty

All things being equal, Monday’s game against NAU was supposed to be the season opener for the Arizona Wildcats. It still was for the Lumberjacks, while Arizona already had a couple games under their belt including a close call two days ago that it could learn from.

The difference in recent game action showed.

Arizona jumped out to a 15-0 lead, shooting 78.3 percent in the first half en route to a dominant 96-53 win over NAU at McKale Center.

Redshirt junior guard Jemarl Baker Jr. spearheaded the offensive onslaught, scoring 21 of his career-best 33 points before halftime for the most points ever scored by a UA player under Sean Miller. Baker was 12 of 16 from the field, hitting 7 of 9 3-pointers, two shy of the school record, after making only 2 of 9 triples while shooting 27.8 percent overall in Arizona’s first two games.

Baker added three rebounds, three steals and two assists in just 29 minutes of action.

Jordan Brown bounced back from Saturday’s rough outing, finishing with 17 points and 11 rebounds for his second double-double in three games with Arizona, while Bennedict Mathurin had 11 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists and Dalen Terry stuffed the stat sheet with 5 points, 3 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks and a steal.

The Wildcats (3-0) shot 66.7 percent for the game after hitting at just a 40 percent clip in wins against Grambling State and Eastern Washington, making 13 of 22 3s and assisting on 21 of 32 baskets. They held NAU—which was playing its first game of the season after a positive COVID-19 test within the program forced it to postpone the original Nov. 25 matchup with Arizona—to 30.5 percent shooting, outrebounded the Lumberjacks 41-24 and outscored them 30-8 in fast break points

Baker had five points, a steal and an assist during the game-opening 15-0 run, then after that he focused on finding his shot. Back-to-back triples put the Wildcats up 32-10, and five points in the final minute before halftime pushed him past his previous career high of 17 set last season at Washington.

His sixth three opened the scoring in the second half, then after missing a jumper (his first non-make of the game) he drained his seventh triple with 17:29 left. Baker finally missed from outside with 15:07 to go, then with 3:21 left he capped his scoring to top the previous Miller-era high of 32 recorded five times by four players, most recently by Deandre Ayton when he had 32 against USC in the 2018 Pac-12 tournament title game.

Arizona is scheduled to play the third of four games in eight days on Wednesday when it hosts Cal State Bakersfield. The Roadrunners (1-1) beat non-Division I school Bethesda University 94-43 on Monday night.