Arizona basketball cruises in season opener
A noticeable difference between Arizona’s televised exhibition win over Chico State last week and Wednesday’s season-opening throttle of visiting Northern Arizona was intensity. The Wildcats were competitively fierce on both ends of the floor in ousting the Lumberjacks, 91-52.
Defensively, Arizona limited NAU to 17-of-54 shooting (31.5%). The Lumberjacks committed 19 turnovers. NAU’s 30 points in the second half bested their first half output by eight points. The Wildcats outscored the Lumberjacks 29-1 in fast break points.
Offensively, Arizona shot 54.1 percent from the floor on 33-of-61 shooting. Four Wildcats scored in double figures and every scholarship player who took the floor contributed on the scoreboard. Arizona only committed seven turnovers, while knocking down 16-of-20 free throws.
Overall, Arizona dictated the pace on both ends of the floor, harassing ball handlers and shooters on defense, while scoring in transition and against a set defense from pretty much anywhere on the court. Impressively, in addition to knocking down nine 3-Pointers, the Wildcats outscored the Lumberjacks 42-14 in the paint.
Freshman forward Zeke Nnaji led all scorers with 20 points in his Arizona debut. The 6-foot-11 forward was joined in double figures by Stone Gettings, Dylan Smith, and Josh Green. Gettings finished with 13 points, while Smith and Green scored 10 points each.
Cameron Shelton led NAU with 17 points and 7seven rebounds. Isaiah Lewis added 13 points six boards.
Of course, there’s always room for improvement.
The bigger and quicker Wildcats only outrebounded NA 36-32, and allowed the Lumberjacks to secure 10 offensive boards. It’s the type of thing that could trip up an otherwise diversely skilled and talented roster when shots aren’t falling on the offensive end, or the opponent is equally skilled and talented.
Looking ahead, the Wildcats host Illinois on Sunday.
The Illini needed overtime to defeat Nicholls on Wednesday, 78-70. Interestingly, on the upcoming trip to the desert southwest, Illinois will first play Grand Canyon University on Friday before making the drive to Tucson for Sunday’s early evening tip. There’s a strong chance the Illini could leave the state of Arizona with back-to-back losses in less than 72 hours.