If not Zeke Nnaji then Chase Jeter; it not Josh Green then Dylan Smith. If not, Nico Mannion then, well, no you need Nico Mannion, Sean Miller’s quarterback.
Such was the case on Sunday night when Arizona defeated Wake Forest 73-66 in the Wooden Legacy. Arizona set the tournament record for points in the three-game tournament with 258.
For three days, it was a parade of scoreboard points, although Sunday night’s output was the lowest of the three. Still, Arizona got by Wake Forest to get the title, something Arizona hasn’t done in a preseason tournament in seemingly forever.
Most of the pieces meshed. And if they didn’t one player stepped in for the other to make things work.
In fact, Wake Forest coach Danny Manning said he wanted to stop Arizona’s big three: Nnaji, Mannion and Green. And did, but it was Jeter and Smith that came up big.
“Those were the guys we wanted to make shots,” Manning said. “And tonight, they made shots. So, hats off to them on their team effort.”
Jeter was Nnaji-like on the offensive end, hitting 7 of 10 shots in helping UA on the offensive end. He had 17 points.
Smith was just as accurate, hitting 6 of 9 from the floor, including 4 of 6 from beyond the 3-point line. He finished with a career-high 20 points.
He said the standard “take the shots that come to me” and he didn’t try to force anything. But he was good at both.
In fact, the Magic Kingdom proved to be the place where Smith and Jeter found their splash mountain. The two made the all-tournament team. Mannion was named the tournament MVP.
They two hit big shot after big shot – and not just on Sunday night but on Friday night, as well – to help Arizona go to 9-0 in the season’s first month.
As UA associate coach Jack Murphy said, the seniors led the charge in the win.
“I’m really happy for the group and happen for the guys,” Murphy said on the post-game radio show.
Overshadowed for most of the season to this point by Green and Nnaji, Smith and Jeter proved to pull their weight in Arizona’s three-game sweet in southern California.
“I’m really proud of Chase Jeter and Dylan Smith,” coach Sean Miller told reporters in Anaheim. “And rightfully so. They have been a great addition. They played great basketball. …
If Dylan and Chase didn’t play like they played tonight then I don’t know if we leave here as champions. Each of those guys have taken a different path but they’re older, they’re experienced, and I am really proud of the way they played in a game of this meaning. I am hoping we can really call on this as the year goes on.”
Might have to, given on any given night someone could be off while another could be on. That was the case on Sunday when Nnaji got into foul trouble early and Green was asked to do other things other than score.
And, well, he did.
“I thought Josh Green played outstanding, he had 12 rebounds,” Miller said.
Later adding, “there are a lot of ways to win but he was a big reason we won.”
Whatever works. Clearly, Arizona was the class of the tournament with lots to play for ahead with Baylor and Gonzaga up ahead.
“It’s great for us to be able to play away from home,” Miller said. “I know that we had a lot of fans here but just not being in Tucson and playing three games in four nights, it represents the Pac 12 tournament and games you are going to play in March. The fact that we have three neutral games and Penn especially, they are a really hard team to defend. We learned a lot in that game that we can take with us back home because we have to improve. We have to take these wins, feel good about them and continue to build and grow.”