While the Arizona Wildcats’ 91-52 season-opening win on Wednesday over NAU was clearly a coming-out party for Zeke Nnaji, coach Sean Miller found plenty else to be happy about.
Among other things, the Wildcats:
-- Held NAU to 6 of 18 3-point shooting, after Chico State was 10 for 25 in Arizona’s exhibition game last Friday.
No doubt getting out on the shooters was something Miller and associate head coach Jack Murphy drilled into the Wildcats' heads.
“We made a big emphasis on defending the 3-point shot,” Miller said. “It's something we did not do well against Chico State. When you watch 10 of them go in, like happened to us, I think that got everybody's attention. And tonight even the six that they made, I'd say two of them were just really late in a clock, challenged, tough desperation shots that happened to go in. We were much more ready, responsible and did a better job overall.”
-- Had only seven turnovers, with Jemarl Baker and Josh Green going without any. Nico Mannion had just one turnover with his four assists and Max Hazzard had one turnover to his five assists.
Hazzard was 1 for 5 from 3 but has a track record of hitting long bombs for UC Irvine.
“He's learning our defense,” Miller said of Hazzard. “I think the more that he plays, the more he watches film … as we get into this month of November, he'll continue to be in the right position. But the one special skill that Max has is he could change the game from 3. I mean, he can really, really shoot it. We've had some teams in the past that really could have used a guy like Max, but he's come to us at a really good time.
“To think about Stone Gettings and Max, both guys are older, they have that skill level of being able to shoot the ball, which can help us in a lot of ways.”
-- Gettings was 3 for 4 from 3-point range and scored 13 points in 17 minutes in his debut after transferring from Cornell as a graduate last December and then sitting out the spring.
“You could see he gives us a different dimension,” Miller said. “What you like about Stone is he's different than the rest of our big guys. He's highly skilled and our team did a really good job tonight of finding him in transition.
“A lot of his 3-point shots came off of our transition game, which is always a good sign because it's hard to find four people on the perimeter. He becomes the fourth and he looked very good on offense.
"And again, the thing that I love about Stone is that he brings it every day, he works incredibly hard, after practice, before practice, and unlike some of our guys, he's older. So he also gives us that experience being a fifth-year senior.”
-- Miller said it’s clear the Wildcats are a deep team and Christian Koloko’s performance may be evidence. Despite playing just eight minutes off the bench, the 7-foot freshman tied for the team lead in rebounds with six.
“I was excited about Christian Koloko,” Miller said. “I mean, he led our team in rebounding … Not a lot of seven footers can run the court, catch it like he did, reverse pivot, shoot the shot like he did. … and when we played him in the first half against Chico State, he did a nice job.”
-- Kentucky transfer Jemarl Baker had nine points, three assists, three steals and no turnovers despite having been limited in practice because of his hip injury.
"Jemarl is the one guy who is not completely himself at this moment," Miller said. "We're being very careful. He's practiced about 60% of our practices, just in terms of not playing him too many minutes. He had an injury to his hip area about four and a half weeks ago. And I think as we can get him to like that six week mark, I think he'll really return to form 100%."
-- And did we mention Nnaji?
Miller compared the Minnesota freshman to Derrick Williams, not only for his agility and strength, but also because Williams emerged quickly at UA despite arriving as a four-star recruit.
“He's not a big strong guy that can't move. He's a big strong guy that can really move and the sky's the limit for Zeke,” Miller said. “He's one of our team's hardest workers, and he's really gotten a lot better over the last year and a half. I mean, go back to his junior year in high school and where he is today. He has a very, very bright future. I'm certainly glad we have him.”
Nnaji was a four-star prospect by most recruiting sites as a senior at Hopkins High School, although Rivals moved him to a five-star pick when he nearly made USA Basketball’s U19 team last summer.
Nnaji also was not named to the McDonalds All-Star Game, though Miller suggested that he probably should have been.
“I think Zeke was one of high school's best players a year ago,” Miller said. “He wasn't a McDonald's all American, I know that. There's different reasons for that and voting… it's hard to pick the right guys. But he's definitely one of the best freshman in college basketball. We have a couple of them, but he's one of them for sure.