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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Wildcats earn signature victory against UCLA, regain elite status in the Pac-12

Los Angeles—Arizona came in to Thursday afternoon’s contest with No. 3 UCLA with a 17-2 overall record and a perfect 6-0 start in conference play. But they were missing one thing on their resume: a signature win. The Wildcats took down the UCLA Bruins 96-85 moving to 18-2 (7-0 Pac-12), and made a big statement. They’re at the top of the Pac-12 Conference right now.

Freshman Kobi Simmons led the way for Arizona with 20 points, six rebounds and five assists.

The energy at Pauley Pavilion was electric as early as 7:00 a.m. when UCLA students began to line up outside. There was no drop-off when they filed in to the building, and the Bruins came out energized to start the first half.

Part of the verve in the arena was due to the return of Arizona sophomore Allonzo Trier. Trier made his season debut against the Bruins playing 13 minutes in the first half scoring six points on 2-5 shooting.

UCLA head coach Steve Alford said in his press conference that he did not change the Bruins’ game plan after hearing that Trier would be active for the matchup. Trier’s presence affected the complexion of the entire game.

“That’s obviously a big boost for them and [Trier] is a very, very good player,” Alford said. “That impacted their team in a very positive way, they’re an outstanding basketball team.”

UCLA freshman sensation Lonzo Ball fed off the energy in the building and came out firing. Ball hit his first two 3-point shots, and had eight points right away. He finished the game with 24 points, six rebounds and eight assists.

The Bruins were able to score 85 points and they connected on ten 3-point shots. Arizona head coach Sean Miller was pleased with his defense, though they did not exactly pitch a shutout.

“I don’t know if we necessarily shut them down,” Miller said. “If you look at the points they still scored in the 80’s but, they are as good of an offensive team as I have ever seen. It’s impossible to keep them from making [3-point shots]. They make three’s like no team I’ve seen.”

While Arizona’s defense struggled to slow down the pace, the offense was able to match UCLA, attacking them down low. Lauri Markkanen had a tough finish, and Kobi Simmons, Rawle Alkins, and Kadeem Allen all scored in the paint in the opening minutes. Trier finished the first half with a layup at the buzzer, and Arizona had all the momentum they could have wanted.

Arizona was able to control the glass, mostly in the first half, and it was the reason they were able to keep pace with the fast-paced attack of UCLA. They won the rebounding battle 42-33, and grabbed 12 offensive boards. They capitalized on their second opportunities outscoring the Bruins 24-18 on second chance points.

Simmons was Arizona’s best offensive player throughout the afternoon. Besides leading the Wildcats in scoring, Simmons was able to make big plays when Arizona needed them most. UCLA brought the deficit down to five with 7:37 to go, but Simmons came up with a key steal. Markkanen scooped up the loose ball, handed it Simmons through his legs and Simmons found Trier for a transition dunk. UCLA tried to push the ball up the floor, but Simmons took a charge and kept the momentum with Arizona. They would hold the lead the rest of the way, earning their biggest victory of the season.

It’s apparent now that Simmons can be counted on to show up in big games. While the freshman has been inconsistent at times this season, he continues to shine in big games. For Simmons, it’s all about competing when the lights get bright.

“I just like to compete,” Simmons said. “I try to do what I can every game for my team to win and we’ve been winning. I just love to compete.”

Miller credited the freshman’s preparation as a key to his success. The peaks and valleys of Simmons’ season are to be expected from a young player, and he has consistently fought through the tough times.

“The one thing about Kobi is that he has a lot of great experience,” Miller said. “Like freshman often do they grow in their first year. He’s more ready, he’s better, he’s worked hard. He’s further along now then he would of been a couple of months ago. That’s to his credit, he works hard.”

The Wildcats had six players score in double figures and the Bruins had no answer for Arizona throughout the game. After Simmons was Markkanen who scored 18 points and went 3-4 from 3-point range.

Trier finished the afternoon with 12 points, seven rebounds and four assists. It had been nearly ten months since he had suited up in a college basketball game, and he certainly didn’t disappoint in his return.

The return of Trier is vital to a Wildcats team that now goes nine deep in their rotation. Just six weeks ago, they only had seven scholarship players available.

“It means the world, it really does,” Miller said. “If things didn’t work out for us today and he didn’t play well, it still means the world. Very, very difficult situation, not only him and his family but for our team. Just to get that news, very unexpectedly, and watch him play. That was great. He played well too and he’s a really good player.”

Arizona will head back to McKale Center to matchup with the University of Washington and Washington State next week. They face the Washington State Cougars on Thursday, January 26 at 7:30 p.m. MST. The game will be aired on Pac-12 Networks.


Follow Christopher Deak on Twitter 


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