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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Ayton places himself in category of his own against UCLA

Simon Asher
Arizona’s Deandre Ayton (13) dunks over UCLA’s Thomas Welsh (40) in the Arizona-UCLA Semifinal game at the 2018 Pac-12 Tournament on Friday, March 9 in T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nev.

LAS VEGAS– The best player in the country is Deandre Ayton—it isn’t close. Turn the page if you don’t want to see another “Ayton is great story”, because Arizona men’s basketball is in the midst of greatness as showcased in the Wildcats 78-67 win over the Bruins to advance to the Pac-12 basketball tournament championship in T-Mobile Arena.

The case-maker for the end of college basketball’s one-and-done rule, Ayton was a giant sized headache for UCLA head coach Steve Alford, particularly in the second half. The Bahamian freshman chipped in a pedestrian seven points on 3-of-4 shooting in the first half. He looked to be continuing his slow play from the day before against Colorado where he contributed a meager 10 points and six rebounds before fouling out. Friday was not the case.

As UCLA’s Thomas Welsh tried to impose himself, scoring eight straight Bruin points against Ayton, some kind of switch apparently triggered. Tired of being the punchee instead of the puncher, Ayton went to work. 25 points in the second half kind of work, a 32 point and 14 rebound effort that catapulted the Wildcats into another stratosphere and the Bruins licking their paws.

Ayton scored Arizona’s last six points in regulation and the first seven in overtime.

“He physically can do whatever he wants, so it’s literally to our advantage to have a guy like that, that’s so capable of carrying us,” guard Allonzo Trier said. “…Just a freakish guy.”

The sentiment that Trier shares isn’t uncommon amongst teammates and coaches, what is, is Ayton’s patience and methodical approach within a game. It isn’t common for a 19-year-old teenager turned man, to play within himself and not force the issue, especially on the heels of a subpar performance by his standards.

“He’s the best player in the country right now and the way he plays and the way he played tonight, we need him,” center Dusan Ristic said. “…This is the first time I’ve seen somebody do the things he is doing, its unbelievable.”

Besides patience, the other admirable trait that pays dividends for the Pac-12 Player of the Year is his direct demeanor. Nothing appears to be too big or too small, it is just another day in the life of Deandre and he seems to relish every moment of it. Perhaps this is the reason why Ayton shook off a performance such as the one against Colorado and battled back to dominate a game to take his team to a conference tournament championship game. 

When a reporter asked if he got tired, Ayton simply replied, “No.”

By this measure, for as great as Ayton played, he was on to the next game saying that he isn’t satisfied and wants more as he walked into the Arizona locker room.

“Everyone is going to play hard, we need to focus on the defensive end,” Ayton said. “Today we did a great job of taking care of the ball”

He has all the tools physically, mentally and emotionally. His credit to soccer as a way to prevent him from being clumsy is as important to the details that make up this phenom as any other. The small details separate him from so many others, his physical gifts put him on another level. Enjoy him Arizona, he only has a few more games left.

Follow Saul Bookman on Twitter

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