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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

From down and out to Pac-12 champions

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Simon Asher

Arizona’s Allonzo Trier (35) and Kadeem Allen (5) celebrate after the Arizona win over Arizona State, on Saturday, March 4. 






Let’s turn back the clocks to early December when No. 7 Arizona was playing its non-conference schedule and was a team that couldn’t catch a break. That same team was just crowned Pac-12 Conference champions for the fourth time under head coach Sean Miller.

With the Wildcats sharing the conference title with No. 6 Oregon, Miller said although Arizona is co-champion and didn’t cut down the nets, Saturday’s win over ASU meant the most to him.

“Out of the four regular season championships that we’ve had here during the last eight years, this one really stands apart from me, because we didn’t have great experience. We had to go all the way to 16-2 in a very, very good conference especially at the top,” Miller said.

The season was an up-hill climb ever since 5-star shooting guard Terrance Ferguson curved Arizona in August to go play professionally in Australia on a shoe deal with Under Armour. Once that happened, it was a “no big deal” moment, because the Wildcats were still looking at a nine-man rotation.

Even at the McDonald’s Red-Blue game, the fully stocked lineup with veterans and highly touted newcomers was a recipe of success. Then once it came down to Arizona’s first exhibition game of the season, sophomore guard Allonzo Trier walked out in a different uniform than most were expecting—sweat pants and Air Jordans.

The constant speculation and the “what the hell is going on” with Trier became a frenzy in not only Tucson, but also the entire college basketball scene.

Was it team policy?

Grades?

Talking to an NBA agent?

Nobody knew, because before every press conference the same “we still cannot comment on Allonzo Trier’s status” from Arizona Athletics grew into a broken record player.

We’ll get to that later, but a double-whammy came Arizona’s way the same night of Trier’s mysterious absence when Ray Smith tore his ACL for the third time in three years. Smith was out indefinitely and medically retired so in just a span of a day, the Wildcats were down two players and technically the season hadn’t started yet.

Once Arizona survived the non-conference schedule with two losses at neutral sites, the Wildcats were counted out, because Oregon was being Oregon and UCLA with Lonzo Ball looked like the Golden State Warriors of college basketball.

On the road in Los Angeles, 19 games in the season and 6 games of conference play under the Wildcats’ belt, the news hit that Trier would return to the lineup after being cleared by the NCAA. 

“A lot of teams that went through adversity like we did, they wouldn’t of been in the same situation that we are now,” Trier said.

With Trier back and Markkanen posting NBA first-round numbers, taking on UCLA in the hostile Pauley Pavilion, the Wildcats upset the Bruins and were separated into the group of teams that had a chance to win a national championship when it was all said and done.

However, UCLA got its revenge in Tucson last weekend when ESPN’s College GameDay put the college basketball microscope on the first Pac-12 matchup of the season handing Arizona’s second home loss in four seasons. How did the Bruins do it? By out scoring Arizona 20-4 in second chance points and getting active on the offensive glass. All the Wildcats had to do was win and they would’ve been Pac-12 regular season champions, but co-champions was the next best opportunity.

“It’s really an amazing group of kids that we have. I don’t know any team that I’ve been a part of that’s dealt with more adversity, more obstacles, more things to overcome and handle it as well as this team,” Miller said.

However ASU wanted to spoil the moment for the ‘Cats, but rebounding was a point of emphasis and the Wildcats out rebounded the Sun Devils 28-10 in the second half and won handedly 73-60.

Can’t believe Arizona did it, but we all were thinking the same exact thing in December. If Miller doesn’t have Trier and if they can’t handle their business in the conference, there’s no way the Wildcats make it past the Sweet 16. 

Well they’re going to Las Vegas as top dog of the Pac-12 with Oregon and are in savage mode now that the post season is here. 

“One word to describe this season is crazy,” Rawle Alkins said. “We went from having no depth to a lot of depth, guys getting hurt so we haven’t had a full team all year… I’ll be scared for other teams. We’re only getting better.”


Follow Justin Spears on Twitter. 


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