Analysis: Baker heats up in big victory over New Mexico State
Arizona men's basketball head coach Sean Miller said Sunday’s game against New Mexico State would be "one of the most difficult games we play all season" following their victory over San Jose State Thursday night.
His team was up for the challenge.
Thanks to another standout performance by freshman Zeke Nnaji and a breakout game for Jemarl Baker, the Wildcats cruised to an 83-53 victory and moved to 4-0 on the season.
Baker’s performance, a Wildcat legend returning to Tucson and the NBA future of Arizona's standout freshmen are some of the things that stood out following the win.
Baker was unsure if he would be granted a waiver by the NCAA to play this season after transferring from Kentucky before finally being cleared to play in late October.
The redshirt sophomore had his finest outing as a Wildcat in the victory, going 6-for-9 from the floor, including 4-for-6 from 3-point range on his way to a career-high 16 points.
“It felt like I had a rhythm,” Baker said postgame. “People were giving me the ball when I was open. I just wanted to do anything I could to be aggressive and help the team win.”
Baker looks to finally be close to 100 percent healthy after battling some hip issues that kept him out of a few practices in the preseason. His shooting and ability to play both guard positions will be key this season with Brandon Williams out for the year.
“I’m feeling really good,” he continued. “I’ve been working with Coach [Christopher] Rounds to get better, and my body is starting to feel really good.”
While he awaits his basketball future, former Wildcat and NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala was in attendance to watch the Arizona victory.
A part of the 2003 Elite Eight team, Iguodala came on as a starter the following season, averaging 12.9 points and leading the team in rebounds, assists and steals on his way to being named All-Pac-10 First Team. His three triple-doubles that season were only the second time in Pac-10 history a player had two or more in a season.
The 16-year NBA veteran has had arguably the best career of any former Wildcat, with a resume that includes three NBA championships, an Olympic gold medal and the Finals MVP, the last of which was won in 2015 with the Golden State Warriors.
Iguodala was traded from Golden State to Memphis this offseason, but is awaiting either a trade or buyout to a contending team for the rest of the season.
ESPN’s NBA Draft Expert Mike Schmitz was at the McKale Center for the game to assess some of the talent on the floor for both teams.
While freshmen Nico Mannion and Josh Green were expected to only stick around for one season in Tucson, the play of Nnaji the first four games could have him potentially join the group in the NBA next season.
“He’s a perfect Sean Miller player,” Schmitz said. “He plays extremely hard, he can guard out on the perimeter. Even though he doesn’t have a clearly defined offensive skillset, he impacts the game in a ton of ways just with his energy.”
Mannion currently sits at No. 9 in the latest ESPN mock draft, with Schmitz saying offense is where the point guard has shined the brightest.
“So far, he’s been really good this season,” Schmitz said. “Offensively, he’s kind of what you’re looking for. He can handle, shoot … he’s got a really nice change of pace to him. I think just decision-making and staying locked in defensively are key.”
Green currently is projected as the No. 22 pick, helping himself the most by shooting the ball well early on.
“He’s shot the ball well so far this year,” Schmitz said. “Percentage-wise, I think he’s shot around 36% from 3, which is what the scouts wanted to see. He’s competitive, good in transition. He’s a good open-floor athlete who I think is going to fit really well in that kind of open-floor game of the NBA. His decision-making and being a consistent shooter are probably the things scouts are wanting to see from him.”
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