Analysis: Dazzling debut highlights Arizona victory over San Jose State
Picking up right where they left off Sunday night, Arizona men's basketball cruised to a dominant victory over San Jose State 87-39. The ‘Cats improved to 3-0 thanks to an 21-0 run in the second half and another huge game from freshman Zeke Nnaji, who finished with 26 points on a perfect 8-8 shooting.
The season debut for two Wildcats, slow starts to the half and a deep rotation were some of the keys to the blowout victory.
The Wait is Over
At the 13:09 mark in the first half, a rousing ovation could be heard coming from the McKale Center faithful after seeing the season debut of sophomore Devonaire Doutrive.
Doutrive was suspended the first two games of the season for a violation of team rules, but head coach Sean Miller raved about his progress in the offseason, with Doutrive winning the gold jersey that signifies the best player in practice that week multiple times.
The results showed, as he finished with 12 points on 3-4 shooting in 16 minutes of action.
“It was great having him back out there,” Ira Lee said postgame. “He brings a great energy to our team. He’s skilled, fun to watch and plays hard. He’s getting back into his rhythm with it being his first game of the season, but we expect good things from him.”
“I think it’s obvious that he’s a much better player than he was a year ago,” Miller added. “I think it will just take some time to insert him in.”
Also debuting in the win was freshman Christian Koloko. The 7-footer only scored 2 points in 8 minutes of action, but his progress will be a key thing to watch this season as Arizona experiments with different lineups.
While it can be difficult to find negative things in the midst of a 48-point win, the Wildcats could’ve potentially won by more, had it not been for poor starts in each half.
Arizona led 12-10 at the 11:41 mark in the first half before unleashing a 17-4 run to open up a 29-14 lead with four minutes remaining before halftime, a stretch that saw them go 6 of 9 from the floor.
With a sizable 39-17 lead going into halftime, it appeared the ‘Cats took their foot off the break just a little bit in the second half as well. An offense that only had eight turnovers all night turned the ball over five times in the first four minutes to open the half, allowing San Jose State to creep back to within 14.
Nnaji effectively ended any hope the Spartans had, scoring 10 points for Arizona during a 21-0 run that took away any hope of a potential upset and sent the fans home happy.
“We weren’t ready,” Miller said of the poor start to the second half. “Believe me, it wasn’t for a lack of effort in the locker room. Any time you have a big lead, you kind of warn your team to come out and be ready to go. Sometimes, when you push the ball like we do, you want things to be easy. We weren’t as patient, and when you’re not patient, sometimes it can go the wrong direction.”
One of the biggest changes from last season’s team that went 17-15 and the one this season is the amount of depth Miller has to work with.
The Wildcats played 11 players on the night, all of whom have a legitimate opportunity to carve out a spot in the rotation as the season wears on. All 11 scored, only two of them in double figures — a sign there is much more balance on the roster this season.
“Everybody is on edge to get that opportunity,” Miller said about the potential to earn minutes for everyone this season. “Last season you saw it was kind of a war of attrition against us. The longer we went, the more difficult it was and we didn’t have the bodies or depth. Knock on wood — things can change quickly, but right now I believe depth is one of our strengths and we have to keep building that.”
Arizona will have a quick turnaround for their next matchup on Sunday as they tip-off against the visiting New Mexico State Aggies at 12 p.m. on Pac-12 Network.
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