Column: Ristic has potential to take over starting role even when Tarczewski returns

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Rebecca Noble

Arizona center Dusan Ristic (14) goes up against Mizzou forward Russell Woods (25) during Arizona’s effortless 88-52 win over Mizzou at McKale Center on Sunday, Dec. 13, 2015.

Justin Spears

Dusan Ristic didn’t necessarily receive the true test against another seven-footer in UNLV freshman Stephen Zimmerman Jr. due to an early first half injury, but Ristic proved that he’s worthy of earning minutes after the Wildcats outlasted UNLV 82-70.

Ristic had a career night finishing with 20 points on six of eight shooting.

Arizona men’s basketball head coach Sean Miller has to be pleased up to this point knowing that he has two centers capable of taking over the starting role. Two productive centers like Ristic and Kaleb Tarczewski could cause issues especially heading into Pac-12 Conference play.

“He’s a much more responsible, agile defender,” Miller said speaking of Ristic. “Protects the rim better. He runs the court better. He knows what to do. There are times when his size around the basket, he utilized it when a year ago he could never [have] experienced it. I thought this was his best game at Arizona…he was probably our best player tonight if you think about it.”

It’s just like the old football term, having two quarterbacks is equivalent to having no quarterbacks.

When Tarczewski returns from his foot injury he suffered against Santa Clara, Miller has some serious thinking to attend to because Ristic might be the better option in the starting center role moving forward.

Ristic scored a then-season high of 12 points against Missouri and dropped 10 points along with six rebounds against NAU Wednesday.

Before Tarczewski went down, he was only averaging 8.6 points per game and 7.2 rebounds. Could it be possible that Ristic is just as good, if not better than Tarczewski?

In Tarczewski’s defense, his game experience over the course of four seasons is unmatchable when compared to Ristic’s limited minutes.

Tarczewski also has matched up with some of the most notable names in college basketball such as Frank Kaminsky twice, Mitch McGary and Patric Young. This season, dissecting the numbers reveals that Ristic is better on certain ends of the floor and opens the game more than when Tarczewski was the starter.

Tarczewski despite being injured has seven offensive rebounds in five games, while Ristic, up to this point, has 20 offensive rebounds.

Ristic’s offensive rebounding percentage sits at 11.6 percent, while Tarczewski remains at seven percent. Even when Ristic isn’t getting his buckets off the second chance opportunities, he’s dishing it to his fellow teammates. This season, Ristic has an assist rate of 10.8 while Tarczewski has a rate of 4.4. Ristic has handed out 10 assists as a starter and in five games as a starter, Tarczewski has three assists to show for it.

The argument could be made that Tarczewski can be more affective because he has a higher free throw percentage shooting 65 percent than Ristic who shoots at 55 percent.

Ryan Anderson has been helping Ristic overcome the obstacle of struggling from behind the free throw stripe with a friendly game between the two during games.

“If you swish the free throw, it’s worth three,” Anderson said when explaining the game. “If you just make it regular and hit the rim, it’s one. If you miss it, it’s minus two. So we just try to see how many points we can get in the game. Not like points actually on the stat sheet, but just on the game. It takes pressure off of the free throw and makes it more fun.”

Apparently the game worked out against UNLV, because Ristic shot a season best seven of eight from the charity stripe.

Not only did the Wildcats earn their 46th consecutive home victory, Ristic is 1-0 against Anderson. A duo on the low post of Ristic and Anderson could be a bright future for the Wildcats, because the pair combined for 37 points and 15 rebounds.

For Tarczewski’s scenario for when he returns in January, he may have to come off the bench and ease his way back into the starting lineup, unless Ristic is performing at the rate he’s at.

“Dusan broke out in a way that we haven’t seen him,” Miller said. “He’s very coachable and very passionate about doing things the right way. There’s always a silver lining when it comes to losing someone like Kaleb. Dusan has been given more and he’s blossoming.”