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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Arizona’s New Year’s sweep in the Bay Area shows promise for conference supremacy

Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Star
Arizona Wildcats guard Kobi Simmons (2) drives into Stanford Cardinal forward Trevor Stanback (33) during the second half of the No. 18 University of Arizona Wildcats vs. Stanford University Cardinal men’s college basketball game on Jan. 1, 2017, at Maples Pavilion in Palo Alto, Calif. Arizona rolled the Cardinal to win 91-52. Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Star

As the No. 18 Arizona Wildcats enter 2017, the New Year’s resolution for the team was to play two complete halves of basketball and smack every team in the conference. The second resolution for the Wildcats probably—will not happen, but hey dreaming is always free.

The Wildcats embraced the “new year, new me” mentality after they harassed Stanford 91-52 Sunday as head coach Sean Miller pushed his winning streak against the Cardinal to 14 games and played the best two halves of basketball all season.

Who would’ve thought Wildcats’ largest win of the season would come during the opening weekend of Pac-12 conference play? Arizona’s New Year’s resolution of beating the day lights out of everyone in the conference is off to a flying start, but the Wildcats aren’t putting up numbers they posted in Palo Alto on a weekly basis.

The Wildcats shot 30-for-48 from the field and 71 percent from 3-point land—Yes, Arizona actually found a stroke from beyond the arc. It wasn’t like Arizona was causing havoc defensively or doing anything notable, but simply playing ball.

Basketball is a game of waves where one team can go on a run and play like show time Lakers and then fall into a scoreless slump. The Cats got into a slump for about four minutes in the first half and never looked back appearing to be a well-oiled machine. I use the expression “well-oiled machine” lightly, because Arizona had more turnovers and less steals than the Cardinal. They were just playing ball.

As the Cats breezed through the Bay Area bringing out the brooms with the complete sweep, Arizona is sitting at 2-0 to start the Pac-12 season and has the weapons to win the conference even with a depleted lineup.

With UCLA and Oregon going down to the wire Wednesday, the Bruins and Ducks showcased they are capable of reaching monumental heights such as the Final Four when firing on all cylinders. That’s comical, because remember at the beginning of the season when it was going to either be Oregon or Arizona to win the conference and UCLA was still a second tier team?

Then Ray Smith tearing his ACL happened, Allonzo Trier’s absence because he did lord knows what happened and Parker Jackson-Cartwright’s high ankle sprain was yet another obstacle for Arizona to overcome. How can Arizona beat Oregon and UCLA with all of these pieces moving around? How can Arizona even control its destiny to Glendale in April if they can’t stay healthy or play without arguably the best scorer in Miller has ever brought to Tucson in Trier?

Jackson-Cartwright returned to the rotation against Cal and is slowly but surely working his way back into the starting role and Ray Smith is retired so where does that leave Allonzo Trier in the shuffle?

Trier might be the best player for this year’s team and Arizona fans are rabid to know what’s going on with the sophomore guard, but let’s be real, his absence is the best loss for the team this season.

Trier is such a ball dominant guard and slows up the pace by going into isolation situations and rightfully so considering he gets to the basket with ease. Arizona averaged 80.4 points per game and is at 73.1 this season. It seems like Arizona can’t score when Trier isn’t in the lineup. Here’s the catch: Arizona also played with veterans last year that picked up the slack especially in a weaker conference schedule.

This year’s team was supposed to be built around Trier, but instead has turned to the freshmen and more specifically Lauri Markkanen and with Trier out, others like Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons have flourished. Alkins finished Sunday with 19 points and was 3-for-4 from 3-pointer while Simmons had 15 points shooting 60 percent from the field with four assists.

The freshmen are the poster children of Arizona basketball right now, but even Dusan Ristic and Chance Comanche are showing strengths inside the paint. Ristic and Comanche shot for a combined 12-for-16, 29 points and 14 rebounds. Everyone knew the supporting cast of Jackson-Cartwright and Kadeem Allen was productive from the get-go, but with Trier out and the freshmen as well as players filling into bigger roles, the “baptized by fire” method Miller was forced to use is showing to be the biggest blessing for Arizona.

Sure it’s the first weekend of conference play for Arizona and the Wildcats still have a date with UCLA twice and Oregon on the road, but at this rate, the Wildcats are on pace to hit their fifth gear without Trier. Adding him into the mix will just be a cherry to Miller’s sundae of experienced players.

2016 may have been a bizarre year for many people including Arizona basketball with all of the curveballs thrown at the program, but 2017 has already been a blessing for the Cats.  

Follow Justin Spears on Twitter.

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