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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Ristic finishes strong, carries Wildcats to third conference win over Utah

Simon Asher

Arizona Wildcats center Dusan Ristic dunks the basketball during a 66-56 win over Utah Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017. Ristic led all scorers with 18 points.

No. 17 Arizona defeated the Utah Utes 66-56 Thursday in McKale Center thanks to solid play from their big man Dusan Ristic. The junior from Serbia led all Wildcat scorers with 18 points and eight rebounds and an overall (14-2, 3-0) record on the season.

The Utes came out firing in the game’s opening minutes, taking a 10-6 lead on 5-6 shooting at the first media timeout with 15:06 left in the first half. The Utes connected on their first two shots out of the timeout, while the Wildcats struggled to get their offense going.

The Utes came at the Wildcats with a 2-3 defense and forced them to take shots late in the shot clock. Arizona started 5-11, but was only able to get one shot off from three-point range, a miss, due to their inability to penetrate and find an open shooter.

Arizona’s offense came alive in the final 11 minutes of the first half. Rawle Alkins found fellow freshman Kobi Simmons for a three-pointer on the left wing with 11:23 to go, and it sparked an 8-0 Wildcats run.

The Wildcat’s defense gained momentum as the offense got going. Arizona held the Utes scoreless over a span of close to seven minutes, and they went 0-5 during that stretch. Arizona held an 18-15 lead with 8:07 to go, and led the rest of the first half. Head coach Sean Miller alluded to Utah’s lack of free throws, and a few big stops that Arizona had as a big part of the team’s success in his press conference.

“The fact that they scored 56 points, it’s not like we held the ball,” Miller said. “They scored two points from the foul line. Our ability to play good defense without fouling is something that I think our lack of depth helped develop. Now that we’ve added one more player it makes us better.”

The second half saw the Wildcats unable to pull away from the Utes, but also provided the young team with a chance to show how they react in crunch time of a close game.

After a back-and-forth second half, the Utes were able to claw back and make it a three-point game with 5:59 to go.

The Wildcats, and the McKale Center crowd, had an answer. In the next two minutes, Arizona went on a 7-0 run capped off by an Alkins three-pointer that electrified the crowd, and gave Arizona a ten-point lead that proved to be too much for the Utes.

Junior point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright played 27 minutes in his third game back since a high-ankle sprain, and continues to be the spark plug for the Arizona offense. He played a near perfect first half, seven assists, no turnovers, and a buzzer-beating floater, propelling Arizona to an 8-point advantage at the break. Jackson-Cartwright’s aggression, specifically against the 2-3 zone, has helped Arizona break through when facing that defensive set.

“Coach didn’t lose confidence in me [while out with ankle injury] he just told me to be aggressive,” Jackson-Cartwright said. “Just watching [the Arizona team] how hard they were playing; I didn’t want to stop that flow. So I just came back as aggressive as possible.”

Miller was impressed with Jackson-Cartwright’s performance.

“If you have zero turnovers and ten assists [Jackson-Cartwright had nine], a big reason of why your team is going to win is going to be because of you,” Miller said. “His impact tonight was extraordinary.”

Ristic continued his hot streak, scoring his 18 points on an efficient 7-10 shooting night. Ristic has scored in double figures in five of Arizona’s last six games, and has raised his shooting percentage to 57% for the season. Confidence continues to be the key for Ristic, and he gave credit to Miller and the coaching staff for continuing to grind it out in practice.

“I just kept following the process every day,” Ristic said. “I didn’t change anything tonight I just kept doing what I’ve been doing the last three years.”

Confidence comes in bunches according to Miller, and Dusan has made plays over the last three weeks that have led to his elevated level of play.

“Confidence develops by making good plays in a game,” Miller said. “As he’s started to do that you can see his game rise.”

Ristic put the dagger in the Utes with an emphatic dunk with 2:31 to go off of Jackson-Cartwright’s ninth assist of the night.

The Utes came in to the contest leading the Pac-12 in rebounding margin, but the Wildcats were able to outrebound them 38-27 on the night. Eight of those boards came on the offensive end leading to 10 second chance points. All eight offensive rebounds came in the first half, and Miller hinted there is room for improvement in the rebounding department.

“At halftime we were getting 50% of our misses back,” Miller said. “If you get 50% of your misses back, that’s domination. In the second half I don’t believe we had one second shot, we’ll take a look at that.”

It was game number 16 on the season for the Wildcats, who have 15 regular season games left and the Pac-12 tournament (which generally counts as one game) so Thursday nights matchup with the Utes was the midway point of the season. Sophomore guard Allonzo Trier has sat out all 16 games thus far for reasons unknown. Miller has alluded to the fact that the NCAA has cleared Trier for travel (Trier was on the bench for the Wildcat’s December 3rd matchup in Los Angeles with the Gonzaga Bulldogs) which validated the fact that the university was dealing with the NCAA in some capacity. It is widely speculated that Trier will return on Saturday, January 7th against the Colorado Buffaloes.

Arizona will face the Colorado Buffaloes Saturday for a 7:30 p.m. tipoff at McKale Center. The game will be aired on Pac-12 Networks.

Follow Christopher Deak on Twitter.

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