When you have a “beast”, a “monster” and a bunch of other pretty good complimentary parts, you know – just know – you’re going to have a pretty good team.
So far, that’s what Arizona has shown through the first couple of weeks of the season. Sure, the sample size of games – and the opponents – isn’t the best but you take what you can get, and Arizona is taking everything it can.
Sunday afternoon was as easy as a Sunday morning in beating visiting New Mexico State, 83-53, for its fourth consecutive win.
So far, so good.
Emphasis on SO GOOD. Arizona’s new-life, up-tempo style and reinvigorated defense (compared to the last couple of seasons) have fans abuzz for what might – could? – be down the road.
Arizona, once again, showed a good work rate and pace to where NMSU had no chance, save for a few minutes after it seemed it would take the whole first half for the Aggies to hit their first shot.
It seemingly took NMSU longer to get from Las Cruces to Tucson before it was already down 10-2 with 14 minutes left in the half.
“I think that we have been playing good defense,” said Zeke Nnaji, who had a game-high 19 points (more later). “I think that we have sometimes… we play better defense than other times, but when we really buckle down and really focus on what we’re supposed to do, getting the gaps, closing out all that stuff, and rebounding, I think that we can be a great defensive team.”
As is the case with a relatively young team, Arizona treated NMSU like a new toy, played with Aggies, tossed them around, enjoyed the time, and eventually got bored and then tossed them aside.
Translation: Arizona had a big lead. NMSU came back to make it a little close and then Arizona started to play again, eventually moving a lead that was in the teens to the lower 30s. NMSU never really had a chance.
There was too much Nnaji, who Jemarl Baker affectionately called the “Beast”, too much Nico Mannion, who Baker said is a “monster.” The monster had 15 points. And Baker, who came off the bench to add to the team’s compliment of players, had a season-high 16 points.
Baker went 6 for 9 from the floor, including 4 of 6 from beyond the 3-point line.
“I felt really good; I felt like I had a rhythm, just for warmups and people give me the ball when I was open,” said Baker of his afternoon. “I just wanted to do anything I could to just come out and be aggressive and help the team win.”
Baker’s numbers were nice, but Nnaji’s – again – were even nicer. For the second consecutive game, he didn’t miss, this time going 7 for 7 from the floor and 5 for 5 from the free throw line. On Thursday, he went 8 for 8 from the floor.
“Um, no, I haven’t,” Nnaji said when asked if he’s had such a streak of offensive success. “I mean, give credit to my teammates. They’ve been giving me the ball in great places to score. And I’ve had a lot of easy looks.”
He was being modest, of course. Sprinkled in with a couple of easy shots, he had a 10-foot jumper and a turnaround shot. Confidence must be good?
“Definitely, I mean I always have confidence whenever I shoot the ball,” he said. “I wouldn’t shoot if I didn’t have any confidence in it, but I think that those are shots I work on a lot especially in practice and I do them over and over, repeat them a lot. That’s definitely helping me as well.”
It’s a reason why Baker called Nnaji a “Beast.”
“I can’t say enough about Zeke on offense,” said UA coach Sean Miller, who turned 51 on Sunday. “I know it’s a little deceiving, he didn’t get a field goal attempt in the second half, but he did go to the foul line, a few times. It’s our job it’s my job to make sure that we get a guy like him the ball, because he’s made over 15 in a row. You know that I think that pretty much speaks for itself. He’s been really efficient.”
The entire team was exactly that. Sunday, UA shot 52 percent and 10 of 21 from beyond the 3-point line. Unlike previous years when Arizona had shooters, this year it has makers. Mannion, Baker, Stone Gettings, Josh Green and (gulp) Dylan Smith. Clearly, the best shooting team he’s had in his 11 years here, right?
“I think so,” he said.
It won’t always be like that – teams hit slumps from time to time – but when you have a beast, a monster and some quality depth, it makes for fascinating play. So far, so good.