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Arizona Wildcats forward Ira Lee (11) is defended by Chico State forward Justin Briggs (25) as he eyes the basket in the second half during an exhibition game at McKale Center on November 1, 2019. Arizona won 74-65.

While sophomore Devonaire Doutrive's status remains up in the air, freshman Zeke Nnaji appears likely to play in Arizona's season opener Wednesday despite sitting out Friday with a sprained ankle.

But because Arizona's 74-65 win over Chico State was just an exhibition, he was held out for what appeared to be precautionary reasons.

"I don't think it's it's very serious," Miller said after Friday's game. "We're working really, really hard with him, but you know tonight's game made no sense for him to play. Sitting tonight out and having the weekend, we expect him to play next week."


Nnaji had been arguably the Wildcats' best post player through preseason practices and Miller referred to him as a "starter" who was missing against Chico State. But Nnaji's absence was offset by the strong play of both Chase Jeter and Ira Lee inside.

Lee not only had 10 points and 14 rebounds but also had no turnovers and made several good decisions with the ball -- when his high-motor style sometimes led to trouble earlier in his UA career.

"He's a guy that you want to have on your team because he brings it every day with great effort, really unselfish," Miller said. "Sometimes that great effort and energy works against him as an offensive player. And I hope that it's finally clicking for him because it's almost like 'just slow down' on offense and tonight he really did that.

"I thought he did that as well in tonight's game as maybe he ever has. Even a couple of the shots he missed, a strong drive and a jump hook around the rim, they were really good shots, and he made good decisions.

"He had some of these moments last year. They would come and go. We want him to be more consistent and you hope now that he's a junior, and he's been through a number of different experiences, that he can become more consistent. I fully expect him to be more consistent."


Miller declined to elaborate beyond the "indefinite" label UA put on Doutrive's suspension in a Twitter release before the game. He also declined to specify much about the reason behind the successful waiver request that allowed Jemarl Baker to be eligible this season.

It appears the NCAA approved Baker's request because of the injury history Baker had at Kentucky, when he redshirted as a freshman in 2017-18 and then played in 28 games last season. The support of Kentucky coach John Calipari undoubtedly helped Baker's case, too.

"Of course, I'm not able to disclose that," Miller said. "I mean that's that's very, very personal, I mean it's injury related and different things like that.

"We're thrilled to have him. He's a fantastic kid and Kentucky felt the same way. We're grateful to have him on our team and be able to play and I think he's somebody that will really take advantage of it and make a big impact. He did some really good things tonight and that's a sign of many good moments ahead."

Despite having missed half of UA's preseason practice time with injuries, Miller said, Baker had seven points and four assists with no turnovers while shooting 2 of 7 against Chico.


Highly regarded freshmen Nico Mannion and Josh Green had both good and tough moments against the DII Wildcats. Mannion was 3 for 11 from the field and 3 of 6 from the line, scoring 10 points while having six assists but also five turnovers.

Green was 3 for 7 from the field, missing both 3s he took, while getting three steals but also turning the ball over three times. 

After the game, Miller was asked if there's a go-to scorer he had identified so far.

"We're very balanced. That's the good news," Miller said. "It'll take some time for that to be sorted out, but that's a good question. You felt that a little bit out there tonight, but some of you've got to remember is we had a couple guys who practice hard every day and play a big role on our team that didn't play, and then you had some other players that were thrust into maybe a different role than they normally are.

"Then Nico and Josh are really talented kids and players, but they're freshmen. It's going to take them a little bit of time to learn. They had their really good moments tonight. And they probably had a few freshmen moments, which is to be expected, and all of us, all of us especially myself, we have to be patient with those guys and teach them, and make sure that they're growing and learning because they're going to keep getting better. 

"They're hard workers, and they're very talented players, but they just showed up here and it's never quite as easy as just snap your fingers and  (it's) man, you're good. "

Miller said Green's two shoulder surgeries since the summer of 2018 have also hampered his development.

"He's just learning the game. Josh has missed a lot of time over the last year and a half," Miller said. "You miss eight months in the last 15, that's a lot. So, some of it is just him getting into his rhythm.

"He's healthy now, and he's really come on strong the last two weeks. If I grade him on maybe a month ago where he was as a player, and then today, he's really improved."


Among the concerning stats for UA:

-- Nine turnovers in the first half.

-- 16 of 26 free throw shooting (and the failure to take advantage of 12 more trips to the free-throw line).

-- An unproductive reliance on 3-point shots in the first half, when UA made just 3 of 13.

-- Chico State's 10 for 25 3-point shooting for the game (despite the fact that the expanded 3-point arc does not go into effect for Division II teams until next season).

While improvements in the second half appeared to have him feel better, Miller said part of those issues was youth, and part of it was the absence of Nnaji, who has been a physical force inside during preseason practices so far.

"Zeke is really important to our defense," Miller said. "He gives us more depth, quickness, can switch, can make hard plays around the basket and he's very good rebounder.

"You know, none of our bigs have to play heavy minutes, and that makes your defense better but we gave up too many 3s. And again you're playing with fire when 10 of them go in. Look at our offense: We shot way too many 3s in the first half. That happens sometimes in your first game, but in the first half we we shot five free throws and had nine turnovers. That's not very good.

"If you look at our second half, we were 13 of 21 from the line, and we took only five threes with three turnovers. So we were getting the ball close to the basket, we drove it, they fouled us more, we were much more efficient. And I think that's something that a team like ours can really benefit and learn from. Because shot selection is big. You take a bad shot, it's almost like a turnover. Our shot selection, our ability to get the ball closer to the basket was much better in the second half."