The Arizona Wildcats defeated the Grambling State Tigers by a score of 74-55 in their home opener on Friday, Nov. 27. It was a weird game in which only the families of the players were in attendance. Five new freshmen made their debuts and only two players played from last season’s team.
Here are the three main takeaways that I took from the Wildcats’ first game of the 2020 pandemic-filled season.
Transfers led the charge
Jordan Brown was by far the best player for the Arizona Wildcats in their season opener. He was dominant on the low post as he was 8-10 from the field while being a major force on the defensive end of the floor as he blocked three shots to go along with 15 rebounds.
Brown transferred from Nevada last season but wasn’t eligible to make his Wildcat debut because of NCAA transfer rules. He originally had Arizona in his top three schools when he was in high school but decided to join the Wolf Pack before transferring after his first season. He was a McDonald's All- American and five-star prospect, and for the first time since high school, we finally saw that version of Jordan Brown again.
Brown reminded me a little bit of former Wildcat Deandre Ayton because of how dominant he was in the low post and how big of an impact he made overall to the team. Just imagine him last season playing alongside Zeke Nnaji. That frontcourt would have been scary for opposing teams.
The other newcomer that made an impact in this game was James Akinjo. Akinjo was the bright spot against Grambling State among the other guards who couldn’t find their touch from deep in the game.
Akinjo, along with Brown, tied for the team’s leading scorer as they both had 19 points. Akinjo finished the game on 6-14 shooting from the field and 4-9 from three-point land. He played 38 of the 40 minutes in his first game and it seemed like the game came very smooth to him. He played both on and off-ball as head coach Sean Miller went with the multi ball-handler approach.
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This year’s team is much different from last year's in that they don’t have a primary point guard that will bring the ball up every possession; Nico Mannion was that guy for them a season ago. Overall, Akinjo had a solid performance and will only grow as a shooter, defender and as a playmaker from here on out.
Turnovers and foul trouble
Arizona struggled with turning the ball over last season and it continued with a mostly different group in 2020. Akinjo and Dalen Terry were two out of their three main ball-handlers to start the game and it will be hard to win games consistently against better opponents if they aren’t taking care of the ball.
From the start of the game, they were just playing sloppy by not establishing the pace the team wanted to play at which led to dumb decisions. Last season, the Wildcats averaged 11.8 turnovers per game which was tied for No. 56 worst in the country. it will take time for these young players to fix their issues, but that number needs to be at 8-10 late in the season.
The Wildcats had five players with three or more fouls against Grambling State and two guys with at least four fouls.
Jemarl Baker Jr. led the team with five personal fouls and caused him to only play 16 minutes and didn’t allow him to get into a rhythm when he was in the game. This Arizona team is young and cannot afford to lose one of their veteran players for unnecessary foul calls at the end of games.
Three-point shooting issues are still present
Arizona’s three-point shooting has been inconsistent for some time now and it didn’t seem to improve — even with all of the new players on the court, shooting just 7-25 (28%) from deep.
No one shot the ball well and Jemarl Baker Jr. and Bennedict Mathurin shot a combined 2-10 on three-point shots, which didn’t help anyone. Baker Jr. was getting good looks all day long but just couldn’t get any to land besides one.
Mathurin might have missed three of them, but I saw a ton of potential with his jump shot as a whole. He has a good form and just needs to keep practicing and refining that shot. Mathurin is a young player and by the time he is a sophomore or junior, he could be a knockdown shooter.
One of the Wildcats' best shooters wasn’t playing on Friday and that is Kerr Kriisa. Kriisa is a very good shooter and his shooting will be a great addition to this questionable shooting roster once he returns.
Arizona was scheduled to play the University of Texas at El Paso on Sunday in Tucson, Arizona, but it was recently cancelled due to COVID-19 issues. So, as of now, they are scheduled to play Colorado on Dec. 2 to open up their conference schedule at 6 p.m. MST.
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