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Arizona could add a non-conference game; Jemarl Baker has ‘outside shot’ of returning this season

Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics

With Saturday’s game at Oregon getting postponed due to COVID-19 issues within the Ducks program, the Arizona Wildcats could add a non-conference game to make up for it.

They have played six this season, meaning they can add one more before reaching the 27-game NCAA maximum. (Remember, there are 20 Pac-12 games this season.)

USC just did something similar, adding UC Riverside to their schedule after their game vs. Arizona State was cancelled.

UA head coach Sean Miller confirmed Wednesday that Arizona is searching for an opponent, adding that it would be a home game against a team within reasonable travel distance.

It’s unclear when that game would take place. Arizona plays at Oregon State on Thursday and then is off until the following Thursday when it faces ASU in Tempe.

“As you know it’s not as easy because the other teams are pretty far into their conference schedule right now,” Miller said. “A number of them don’t have open dates or they’ve filled their allotment of non-conference games. And then those that have not, at this point you’re not going to get people to travel very far. So it’s more regional. It has to be a team that makes sense for us. And it has to be a team that has an open date at some point.”

One logical opponent: New Mexico State. The Aggies are off until Jan. 22.

“Outside shot” Baker returns this season

Miller said Monday on his radio show that Jemarl Baker Jr.’s broken wrist would keep him out for the rest of the season. He kind of backtracked on that Wednesday, saying there is an “outside shot” he returns at some point.

It would be at the very, very end of the regular season. Miller said Baker is scheduled to have surgery Thursday evening and is expected to be sidelined for about eight weeks.

“I think for his best interest in our planning, just based on the timing of his injury, we’re moving as if he’s finished for the season,” Miller said. “And if we get news otherwise, that will be a very welcomed good news for us.”

Assuming Baker is done for the season, he finishes his redshirt junior year averaging career highs in points (12.0), rebounds (2.8), field goal percentage (40.3), 3-point percentage (34.3) and free throw percentage (83.3).

“I feel terrible for him because I don’t know if there’s a player that we’ve had here at Arizona that does things the right way more than Jemarl,” Miller said. “He practices hard every day or many times he’s working out long after the practice ends. Even in COVID, he had a great summer. He was in the best shape of his life and I know he hit it a tough streak at Washington State shooting, but he’s played some really good basketball for us. I mean, if you’re the Pac- 12 Player of the Week and you’re our second leading scorer, we’re going to step up and we’re going to do the best we can, but we’re really going to miss Jemarl, we really are. I mean, we lose our depth. We lose our guard depth. We lose one of our team’s best players, one of our team’s leaders, and I can’t look at it any other way other than it’s really unfortunate for our team.”

Without Baker, Arizona plans to make significant changes to its starting lineup. Terrell Brown will take his spot at the 2, while Bennedict Mathurin and Christian Koloko will push Dalen Terry and Jordan Brown to the bench, respectively.

You can read more about that and Miller’s rationale from my write-up Monday.