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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Wildcats coming together at the right time

From+left+to+right%3B+Arizonas+Lauri+Markkanen%2C+Parker+Jackson-Cartwright%2C+Kadeem+Allen%2C+and+Rawle+Alkins+huddle+together+before+a+free+throw+during+the+Pac-12+Championship+game+between+Arizona+and+Oregon.+Arizona+won+the+Pac-12+Tournament%26nbsp%3BChampionship+for+the+second+time+under+head+coach+Sean+Miller.%26nbsp%3B

From left to right; Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Kadeem Allen, and Rawle Alkins huddle together before a free throw during the Pac-12 Championship game between Arizona and Oregon. Arizona won the Pac-12 Tournament Championship for the second time under head coach Sean Miller. 

SALT LAKE CITY — The No. 2 seeded Arizona Wildcats are set to face the No. 15 seeded North Dakota Fighting Hawks in game one of the NCAA Tournament for both teams Thursday, and it couldn’t come at a better time for a program who has had its share of ups and downs this season.

When Allonzo Trier came back to the lineup, the Wildcats struggled to understand their roles on a team that has a strong chance to reach the Final Four. Struggled, that is, until the Pac-12 Tournament. 

Arizona has figured out the chemistry aspect, perhaps the most important piece to reaching success. The results of Arizona gelling at the right time include a Pac-12 Championship and No. 2 seed in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament.

One player who has defined his role is Trier. He has become the Alpha male on a team full of talented players and relishes the weight that comes with that responsibility. Since Trier rejoined Arizona at UCLA on January 21, he has averaged 16.4 points per game along with five rebounds and 2.5 assists.

“I feel he added more depth,” said senior guard Kadeem Allen. “I feel like we are the same team we were once before he was out.”

Wildcat fans always compare Arizona teams to the 1997 National Championship but Trier’s path this season compared to Miles Simon’s that year are eerily similar. Simon was ineligible the first half that title season due to academic issues. Simon returned midway through the year and led the Wildcats to the Final Four and the school’s first championship while being named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.

Trier returned after a PED suspension and became the Pac-12 Tournament Most Outstanding Player after the Wildcats beat Oregon to secure head coach Sean Miller’s second tournament title in three years. Coincidence? Maybe.

However, Trier’s return isn’t glorious for everyone. The return of a player his caliber means a decrease in minutes for others, most recently guard Kobi Simmons. Simmons has seen a significant decrease in minutes during the past couple of weeks to the point where his is rocking single digit minutes on an every game basis now.

“Kobi’s attitude has been incredible,” Miller said. “He’s a really, really good kid. Loves the game. Our team would not have the record we had if he didn’t have the type of season that he has had.”

Part of getting a team to buy in and play well at the right time is the ability to deal with adversity both within the team and personally. The Wildcats appear to have found a happy balance, but the NCAA Tournament is unforgiving. One day off and it will end your season with a quickness. There are no second chances in college basketball’s premier event, so Trier better take advantage of his.

“Last year we faced adversity, we know how it feels to lose in the first round,” Allen said. “We said before early, you have to remind the young guys how easy it is to get knocked off.”

Allen has been key in guiding the Wildcats through the season. His leadership and demeanor calm the Wildcats and coupled with fellow guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Arizona has one of the more composed backcourts in the country.

“I do think we have a great, great leader [Allen], and certainly others like Parker next to him that can help him lead,” Miller said.

Step one in continuing the teams momentum is to maintain the chemistry already established, beating North Dakota and avoiding a monumental upset would be a good start.


Follow Saul Bookman on Twitter.


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