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Big second half propels Arizona to huge victory over Long Beach State

Amy Bailey and Amy Bailey | The Daily Wildcat After watching Matt Weyand score the last point of the game, Zeke Nnaji (22) gets the crowd hype by yelling alongside the rest of the Wildcats.

Arizona head coach Sean Miller said following the Wildcats’ close victory on Thursday against South Dakota State that the offense was like "a carnival" due to the quick shots and faster pace.

Long Beach State went for a ride on Sunday and came out sick, losing 104-67 thanks to a dominant second half that saw Arizona shoot 65% from the floor and 53% from three-point range on the way to scoring 66 points.  

“I thought we had an excellent second half, reflective of having 26 assists for the game,“ Miller said. “Any time you get that high of an assist total, a lot of good things are happening.“

Arizona freshman Nico Mannion (1) jumps towards the basket and shoots the ball into the basket.

Miller spoke of freshman Nico Mannion's performance, saying, “He’s slowly and steadily settling in and learning how to be a college player." Along with Mannion, Jemarl Baker Jr. handled point guard duty Sunday for the 'Cats. The duo was superb, accounting for 15 assists and only 2 turnovers on the night. 

The first half saw the Wildcats getting the ball to their big men more than in Thursday’s close call. After taking 14 three-pointers and not getting star freshman Zeke Nnaji a shot attempt, Miller was visibly upset after the game.

“He didn’t take one shot,” Miller said following Thursday’s game. “You have the nation’s leading field-goal shooter on your team and he doesn’t take one jump hook? Not one? That’s a problem.”

Early on, the Wildcats made it an emphasis to get the ball inside, with Nnaji or Chase Jeter taking three of the first four Arizona shots. Nnaji was much more aggressive than the previous outing, going 4-8 with 11 points in the first half.

“He settled in,“ Miller said of Nnaji. “I think that he’s going to continue to grow. The range on his shot will continue to develop. He’s a very, very good student. He listens, he learns, he’s curious.“

Things were a lot closer at halftime than the McKale Center fans would like, with Arizona turning it over eight times to go along with seven missed free throws. A stretch of five straight made baskets by Long Beach gave them a 31-30 lead with 3:16 remaining, before Arizona closed on an 8-2 run to take back the lead.

A collective sigh of relief could be let out by the McKale faithful in the second half, as Arizona at one point made 11 of 12 shots from the floor, using an 18-2 run to open things up for good. The Wildcats as a whole outscored the Beach 66-34 in the half.

Mannion and Nnaji carried their strong first half performances over, scoring double digits in each half to finish with 22 and 21 points respectively to lead the 'Cats.

“I think we played unselfish today,“ Mannion said. “We were just making the right play. I think with that just comes good karma, the basketball gods look out for you. I think we played the right way today sharing the ball and getting open looks, and when you get open looks, they start to fall.“

The game marked the first time Arizona played since the dismissal of sophomore guard Devonaire Doutrive. Doutrive was dismissed from the program Friday for a violation of team rules, with graduate transfers Baker and Max Hazzard stepping up in a big way.

The duo combined for 25 points on 9-12 from the floor and 7-9 from three-point range, with Hazzard scoring all 14 of his points in the second half. 

Max Hazzard (5) dribbles the ball down the court and scores another point for the Wildcats.

“It felt good,” Hazzard said. “I haven’t been shooting the ball as well as I wanted to so far this year, but small sample size and long season. I like my chances.” 

Arizona will be on the road for the first time this season as they head to Anaheim, Calif., for the Wooden Legacy tournament this upcoming week. The Wildcats play their first game on Thanksgiving against Pepperdine, with tip-off set for 9:00 p.m. Arizona time on ESPN2. 

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Updated September 18, 2020