Arizona basketball: Thoughts after the Bay Area road sweep
Arizona shot 27.3 percent in the first half at Stanford. It made only 3 of 21 3-point attempts for the game. The Wildcats committed 16 turnovers, and their best two players battled foul trouble in the second half.
It didn't much matter.
The Wildcats played with the kind of margin of error that they were widely expected to have at the beginning of the season but haven't always shown, especially after a 9-0 start. No worries on Saturday night, as Arizona stiff-armed Stanford 69-60 for its second consecutive Pac-12 road sweep.
Coach Sean Miller, in his postgame interview on Wildcats Radio 1290, called the win "a testament really to our growth as a team" as his team overcame a variety of issues.
"But the definition of a great season is, are you still able to win when some of those things occur. There are times when those types of things have dismantled us and not allowed us to be the winner at the end, but tonight we really stayed with it. Not just one player, but really everybody."
But if we were to single out one player, it might be freshman forward Zeke Nnaji, who recorded his 12th double-double of the season with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Another would be freshman wing Josh Green, who scored 15 points, had six rebounds and made all eight of his free throw attempts.
That was a big story: Arizona connected on its first 19 shots from the free throw line and finished 26 of 31. It was nice for the Cats to see the ball go through the hoop. They shot 27.3 percent from the field in the first half, including 1 of 13 from 3-point range. Arizona improved to 37.0 percent shooting for the game, although it couldn't hit the ocean from beyond the arc, finishing 3 of 21.
But Arizona found a way to win with tough defense and just enough plays on offense, such as when Green scored four consecutive points after Stanford pulled within 52-48 with about seven minutes left. Green made two free throws and then stole the ball and dunked on a fast break.
The Cardinal got back to within six points before Dylan Smith connected from deep and Stone Gettings contributed a layup to give Arizona its largest lead of the game (at that time) at 61-50.
Another individual worthy of mention: Jemarl Baker. He kept Arizona on course after Nico Mannion picked up his fourth foul with 11:42 to go.
"When you have somebody as important as Nico on the bench with four fouls, a lot of teams would go south, and I thought Jemarl Baker during that period of time was a steady force," Miller said. "He played some really good basketball in a tough stretch for our team."
Nnaji ended up playing 28 minutes, hampered for a while after picking up three fouls in the first two minutes of the second half. What he is really good at is putting fouls on the other team. By my count, he was fouled 18 times on the Cal-Stanford road trip. He went 14 of 20 from the line in those two games and is 30 of 38 in the past four games.
"Zeke Nnaji has really developed into an excellent free throw shooter," Miller told reporters after the game. "He gets fouled so much, that no doubt it is certainly a weapon for us on offense."