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Balanced attack leads Arizona to easy win over Cal State Bakersfield

Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics

Jemarl Baker Jr. had his coming out party two nights ago. On Wednesday, he invited several of his teammates into the spotlight.

Terrell Brown Jr., Bennedict Mathurin and Dalen Terry all reached double figures for the first time this season, while Baker followed up his career-best 33 with a 15-point performance as the Arizona Wildcats cruised to a 85-60 win over Cal State Bakersfield at McKale Center.

Brown, the graduate transfer from Seattle, tied his career high with four 3-pointers after going 0 for 2 from deep in Arizona’s first three games, while adding four rebounds and six assists. Mathurin also had 15 points, hitting a pair of 3s while pulling down six rebounds, and fellow freshman Terry added 10 points, three rebounds, three assists and two steals.

Freshman Azuolas Tubelis also got into double figures, with 12, and was one of five Wildcats to hit at 3-pointer as the UA were 12 of 28 from outside while shooting 49.1 percent overall. Tubelis made 9 of 10 free throws as Arizona was 19 of 21 from the line following a 65.4 performance in the first three games.

Arizona (4-0) scored 16 points off turnovers and had a 19-5 edge in fast-break scoring, taking Bakersfield (1-2) out of its comfort zone by speeding up the game. The Roadrunners shot 40.4 percent but made only 4 of 17 3s.

Arizona led 46-26 at the half thanks to 51 percent shooting, hitting seven 3-pointers while getting 16 points off 11 Bakersfield turnovers. The Wildcats had eight first-half steals, three by James Akinjo, who finished with eight points and seven assists as his team assisted on 21 of 27 baskets.

Bakersfield used a combination of a 3-2 zone and some 1-2-2 press to keep it close over the first 10 minutes, trailing only 19-17 after a 3-pointer from Grehlon Easter. But Arizona went on a 14-2 run over the next five minutes to lead 33-19, then back-to-back 3s by Terrell Brown upped the edge to 43-23 with 2:36 left in the first half.

Wednesday’s game marked the return to the bench of assistant coach Jason Terry—who was away from the team Monday after an inconclusive COVID-19 test, which was followed up Tuesday with a negative test—and freshman guard Kerr Kriisa. Kriisa, who is still awaiting clearance from the NCAA to play, had been in quarantine since returning from representing his native Estonia in a FIBA 2022 qualifying tournament last month.

Arizona completes its stretch of four games in eight days on Saturday when it hosts UTEP at McKale Center. UTEP, which is 2-1 and lost by 15 at Saint Mary’s on Tuesday, was supposed to play in Tucson on Nov. 29 but had to postpone because of a positive COVID test in its program; the Aggies were then re-added after New Mexico State had to postpone its Saturday visit for a similar reason.