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Arizona men's basketball continues to dominate in the early season

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Amy Bailey and Amy Bailey | The Daily Wildcat Wildcat Jemarl Baker Jr. (10) concentrates before shooting during the second half of the Arizona-New Mexico game at the McKale Center. The Wildcats defeated the Aggies 83-53

Defense led the way in Arizona men's basketball's 83-53 trouncing of New Mexico State on Sunday afternoon at the McKale Center.

Earlier this week, Head Coach Sean Miller said New Mexico State “will be one of the most difficult games we play all season.” Even though the Aggies were missing key pieces of their team due to injury, they won 30 games last year and almost knocked Auburn out of the NCAA tournament. Miller knew from the start that this game could be tough.

Arizona started the game on a 10-0 run and didn’t let the Aggies score until after the five minute mark of the first half. After NMSU brought it back to a three point game, Arizona went on another run and put the game out of reach for good. 

Zeke Nnaji once again led the Wildcats with 19 points on 7-for-7 shooting and Nico Mannion added 15 points. But it was Jemarl Baker Jr. who had his best game of the year with 16 points, including four three-pointers made. Baker is getting closer to 100 percent after a hip injury had slowed him down during practice and through the first couple of games.

“I felt like I had a rhythm through warm-ups and people were getting me the ball when I was open, and I wanted to do everything I could to be aggressive and help the team win,” Baker said. “My body is starting to feel good.”

While the offense was almost unstoppable all game, it was the defense that really came to play. In the first half alone, the Wildcats caused 4 jump balls, 2 backcourt violations and a shot clock violation. They ended up forcing 20 turnovers and held the Aggies to 32% shooting. 

“I thought our defense in the first 20 minutes reminded me of kind of where we were a couple years ago,” Miller said. “We had 25 deflections at the half, that’s a stat we keep, and our goal is between 25 to 30 for a game.”

With how deep Arizona is, they don’t need everyone to play their best. Miller is consistently rotating 10 players, and if they all score even just a little bit, the Wildcats will score upwards of 80 points every game. Add that to how good the defense has been playing and it’s a winning formula that could prove dangerous for any team playing Arizona.

“Sometimes we play better defense than other times, but when we really buckle down and when we’re really focused on what we’re supposed to do — getting in gaps, closing out, all that stuff and rebounding — I think we can be a great defensive team,” Nnaji said.

Arizona will next host South Dakota State on Thursday night at 7 p.m. at the McKale Center.


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