Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. MST on ESPN. Here are some things to watch for.
The last bow
Senior Night at Arizona isn’t like most places. Between transfers and NBA hopefuls, very rarely do players—at least those of the scholarship variety—sign out of high school and develop at Arizona for all four years. This class is no exception, with transfers Stone Gettings, Max Hazzard, Dylan Smith, and Chase Jeter representing the team’s upperclassmen.
In Gettings and Hazzard’s case, they have only been at the UA for one season, joining the program as graduate students. Smith has been in Tucson for four years, but sat out his first season after transferring in from UNC Asheville.
He said earlier in the week that his favorite memory was clinching the Pac-12 regular-season championship in McKale in 2018 and promptly darting through the stands to high-five fans.
Maybe Saturday will mean another memorable moment.
“He’s had his ups and downs on offense, but...he shows up every day,” said Arizona coach Sean Miller. “He works at it. He deserves to finish here on a really strong note.”
Saturday likely marks the final home game for freshmen Nico Mannion, Zeke Nnaji and Josh Green as well. All three are projected first-round NBA Draft picks.
Enjoy them while you can.
A format change
Arizona usually honors its seniors after the final home game, but this year it will do so before the game. The late tip-off makes it the logical thing to do.
“It’s not because we’re worried about winning or losing or we don’t value this group as much as others, that’s furthest from the truth,” Miller said. “It’s just like a lot of things you have to adjust to the time.”
The freshmen will not be commemorated, even though Arizona has celebrated NBA-bound underclassmen before. It’s not a lock that they all leave anyway.
Zeke’s last stand
This is Nnaji’s last chance to make his case to be Pac-12 Freshman of the Year. One of the other players in the running, Washington’s Isaiah Stewart, will be trying to make a statement of his own in McKale.
In actuality though, the frontrunner might reside at USC in the form of Onyeka Okongwu. Here’s how those three big men stack up entering the final day of the Pac-12 season:
- Okongwu: 30.5 MPG, 16.2 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 2.7 BPG, 61.4 FG%, 73.0 FT%, 64.4 TS%
- Nnaji: 30.4 MPG, 16.4 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 0.9 BPG, 57.9 FG%, 76.1 FT%, 63.7 TS%
- Stewart: 32.2 MPG, 16.6 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 2.1 BPG, 56.1 FG%, 76.3 FT%, 61.9 TS%
The first matchup between Nnaji and Stewart was high on hype, but low on substance. Nnaji had nine points and eight rebounds on 4-of-11 shooting. Stewart had nine points and 11 rebounds on 3-of-13 shooting.
The Wildcats did a nice job fronting the post, using a plethora of defenders to frustrate the freshman phenom. Washington’s guards aren’t exactly the best passers, either.
After shooting under 50 percent in three straight games, Nnaji has come alive the last two contests, averaging 18.5 PPG on 58% shooting.
Jeter will miss Saturday’s game, the final game of a two-game suspension for violating team rules, but will participate in Senior Day ceremonies, according to a UA spokesman.
Who knows if Max Hazzard will even be in the building. He missed Thursday’s game for “personal reasons” and Miller declined to comment on the sharpshooter’s availability moving forward.
It seems like an ominous sign that Hazzard wasn’t even on the bench with his teammates against Washington State. (He was last Thursday when he missed the USC game for personal reasons.)
The turnover margin
Per Miller, turnovers will be the key stat against Washington and its extended zone defense.
“You cannot turn the ball over against Washington,” he said. “You have to be able to attack their zone and play in transition, make good shots.”
Arizona, generally, has been good at avoiding the turnover bug, ranking No. 1 in the Pac-12 in that department. However, the Wildcats have weird stretches where they pile up, especially late in games.
The good news is Arizona only had 10 turnovers the first time against UW, a huge reason it won despite shooting 39% from the field. That was one of the few close games the Wildcats actually won, leaving Seattle with a 75-72 victory, thanks to a late 3 by Jemarl Baker Jr.
“I don’t know if we’ve had a team here at Arizona that plays in spurts in that area (like this one),” Miller said. “We’re good at taking care of the ball, but we can be great.”
On the flip side, the Huskies are dead last in the conference in turnover percentage, meaning Arizona will have loads of transition opportunities if that trend continues.
“When we play hard and we’re getting stops and playing in transition, I think that’s when we’re at our best,” said Mannion, who has been terrific the last two games and will try to keep that going Saturday.
The zone buster
Gettings was a huge difference-maker the last time Arizona played Washington, continually finding the soft spots in the zone. Oftentimes that meant camping at the free-throw line and burying some wide open mid-range jumpers.
He finished with 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting that night, starting a stretch in which he tallied three straight double-figure scoring games. Since that streak ended, Gettings has scored in double figures once in the last eight games.
A first-round bye
Our Brian Pedersen did a deep dive into all of Arizona’s Pac-12 Tournament seeding possibilities, but in order for the Wildcats to earn a bye—AKA finish in the top four—it pretty much boils down to this: assuming Arizona takes care of business against UW, USC needs to lose to UCLA.
If the Trojans win, then both ASU and Colorado have to lose for the Wildcats to earn a bye. If all three could fall, Arizona would get third place outright.