Can't-miss Nnaji, No. 14 Arizona take aim at So. Dakota St

Field Level Media

Arizona freshman power forward Zeke Nnaji has hardly missed through the 14th-ranked Wildcats' 4-0 start, but coach Sean Miller sees more than a sterling shooting percentage.

"We're just really happy with him overall," said Miller, whose team hosts South Dakota State on Thursday night in Tucson, Ariz.

"One thing he's doing a really good job of right now is he's one of our team's best defensive players. He had a number of really good plays defensively in the last game. If he was just doing that, especially as a freshman, that would be something for us to be proud of, for us to acknowledge."

But it's easier for everyone to acknowledge Nnaji's offense.

He has made 17 consecutive field goals, spanning two-plus games, and 13 straight free throws. He has won both of the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week awards and is averaging 21.0 points and 6.0 rebounds per game.

He is shooting a stunning 84.6 percent from the field (33 of 39), which includes one miss on a 3-pointer late in the season opener.

The competition will get tougher at some point, but probably not Thursday night against South Dakota State (4-2), which comes in after a 78-73 home victory over North Alabama on Tuesday. Before that, the Jackrabbits were on a two-game slide with road losses to Southern California (84-66) and Nebraska (90-73).

South Dakota State scored 46 points in the second half on Tuesday and made 25 of 33 shots from the free throw line.

"Certainly excited about our second half," coach Eric Henderson said after the game.

"I thought we played probably the best offensive half we have had this year with this group of guys. It was really nice to play inside out, and when you take the right shots, you shoot a little better percentage. That's what I was really proud of (with) our guys tonight. I thought we took better shots. I thought we played very unselfishly."

Miller has said the same about this team, which features three freshmen in the starting lineup and a rotation that can go 11 deep without a major drop-off. For example, backup transfer guards Jemarl Baker (Kentucky) and Max Hazzard (UC Irvine) have a combined 25 assists and two turnovers.

"Very seldom you sub perimeter players in like that and they play long stretches without any turnovers," Miller said.

Freshman point guard Nico Mannion is second on the team in scoring at 13.3 points per game, with 18 assists and 11 turnovers. Freshman Josh Green is averaging 11.3 points.

For the Jackrabbits, junior forward Douglas Wilson leads the way with 17.7 points per game and was the leading scorer in each of the first five games. Senior guard Brandon Key poured in a team-high 18 points against North Alabama to up his season average to 12.8. South Dakota State is shooting only 27.8 percent from 3-point range.

That's not an issue for Arizona (43.6 percent behind the arc) while it continues to see what Nnaji will do next.

"He's only going to get better," Miller said. "He works extremely hard every day and he's coachable. He's very unselfish. I feel guilty. You make 15 shots in a row (in two games), you want him to shoot more. You want to be able to get him the ball in scoring position just a little bit more."

--Field Level Media

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