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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: Arizona back in Final Four discussion with win over No.3 UCLA

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Simon Asher

Allonzo Trier watching his teammates during the UA-UCLA game on Jan. 21. 






Los Angeles—When No. 14 Arizona came into Pauley Pavilion Saturday; the Wildcats were a six-point underdog and had to face their biggest task of the season to shut down not just star freshman Lonzo Ball, but No. 3 UCLA’s high-powered offense.

UCLA had the No. 1 scoring offense (93.3 points per game), scoring margin (+17.8), and field goal percentage (53.6 percent) in the Pac-12 conference. The Bruins entered the matchup shooting 44.1 percent from 3-point range and were averaging 22.5 assists per game, which were also top statistics in the Pac-12.

“They’re as good of an offensive team as I’ve ever seen,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said. “You look at their stat sheet and you almost want to throw it away… It’s impossible to keep them from making threes.”

Miller said earlier this week that the Bruins offense and the upbeat tempo they play at was the “college version” of the Golden State Warriors. For every Golden State Warriors squad, there is always a Cleveland Cavaliers known as the kryptonite defensively.

With sophomore guard Allonzo Trier making his season debut after sitting out 19 games for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs and Kobi Simmons rising to the occasion, the Wildcats had a similar one-two punch the Cavs had with Kyrie Irving and LeBron James down the stretch. The pair didn’t make the exact plays like Irving and LeBron, but their defensive intensity lifted Arizona in upset fashion.

“You got to give Arizona a lot of credit. They played at a really high level and very well both halves,” UCLA head coach Steve Alford said. “We just didn’t get stops. We couldn’t get in a flow to get any kind of rhythm defensively… Our efficiency defensively was awful tonight.”

So now what? The Wildcats beat UCLA as a top-5 team for the first time since 1979 and it was the most points any opponent has scored in Pauley Pavilion since 2004. Arizona and Oregon are back to being neck-and-neck for Pac-12 supremacy, but the Wildcats have proven once again that although pieces to puzzle are constantly changing, they are more than capable of paving a path to the Final Four.

From Terrance Ferguson heading overseas, Ray Smith’s ACL injury, Allonzo Trier’s suspension to even Parker Jackson-Cartwright’s ankle sprain, the Wildcats were an afterthought of a national championship contender.

With the return of Trier, the Wildcats are still a defensive minded team, but with some scoring sauce on the side. Even with the UCLA student section chanting “steroids”, “PEDs” and “cheat”, Trier put his hater shades on with 12 points seven rebounds and four assists. 

“It means the world—it really does. If things didn’t work out for us today and he didn’t play really well, it still means the world,” Miller said. “When one of your best players isn’t able to play, you’re a better team with him. Today he played so would we have won today if Allonzo didn’t play today? I don’t know if we would have.”

Arizona has won 12 consecutive games since starting 6-2 on the season and the two teams they lost to were Butler who’s ranked No. 3 in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) and Gonzaga who is No. 4 in the AP Top-25.

Those are quality losses and now beating a UCLA team that topped No. 1 Kentucky at Rupp Arena; the Wildcats are without a doubt a Final Four contender.

“It gives us a lot of confidence to our team especially when Allonzo is back and now it’s on to the next one,” Arizona forward Lauri Markkanen said.

Arizona needs to be considered not only as a top-10 team, but if they continue to catch fire as the season progresses and if the Cats are able to pull out another road win against Oregon, look forward to seeing UA two hours up the road at University of Phoenix team come April. 


Follow Justin Spears on Twitter 


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