As per usual, the Wildcats were terrible hosts. In fact, they were downright mean, beating Sacred Heart by 30, with a final score of 95-65.
So what could be learned from a game like that? Arizona simply defended their home floor against a mid-major.
But on Friday night, we learned quite a bit about trusting a veteran to find his groove, an opportunity to get a leader healthy, and how a team can score 95 points without being able to shoot a lick.
Ristic was the worst player in Arizona’s rotation through two games which was a surprising development.
The seven foot Junior averaged four points and four rebounds on 23% shooting and that wasn’t really the worst of it. He struggled mightily on the defensive end and often was outworked on the glass to open the season.
But Sean Miller told everyone Ristic would be fine following Tuesday night’s win over Cal State Bakersfield. Ristic was better than fine on Friday night, breaking out for 13 points and a career-high 15 rebounds, Ristic’s first double-double in his Arizona career.
Ristic’s performance was a not-so-subtle reminder that the season is just a few games old and quite frankly, everyone needs to shut up and let the young men work.
Arizona is off to a 3-0 start and many of the Wildcats were quite impressive in the first two games, making it easy to pick on Ristic for his rough start. But those averages I cited earlier are all nearly doubled now with his performance against the Pioneers and people should expect nothing less from a guy who has worn the uniform more than nearly every other Wildcat on the roster.
The freshman phenoms are all proving their worth and stealing the show but the upperclassmen should not be overlooked. They can be trusted to show up. Ristic showing up with authority on Friday night was a welcome sight for all Wildcat fans.
GET OUT AND RUN
The Wildcats hung 95 points on Friday night, easily the most they’ve scored this season. It’s notable, though, that they did that while their three point shooting came back down to earth after two good performances from beyond the arc.
Arizona shot a subpar 3-19 from deep (team shot 12-28 in first two games, combined) against Sacred Heart. Honestly, the type of shooting performance people expected from this team to start the season.
And yet, Arizona erupted for 95. How? As they did in their first two games of the season, they attacked the basket and got to the free throw line whenever they wanted. They went 22-26 from the line.
But they added another component to their offense and it’s one to get very excited about with this group — fast breaks.
Arizona utilized their steep athletic advantage and ran all over the place. They scored 25 points off of the 17 turnovers they forced, putting on a show, headlined by some highlight reel-worthy dunks.
In a game where the half-court offense didn’t generate the success they wanted to, putting this team’s speed and athleticism to use was huge and will continue to be a key to their future. Not only will the transition offense result in major scoring, it’ll be awfully fun to watch too.
REST UP AND HEAL
Kadeem Allen sprained his knee last week in the win over the Michigan State Spartans. It was bad enough that Allen sat out the following game.
Allen returned to the floor on Friday night but it was pretty clear that he wasn’t quite ready for that.
The Wildcats’ premier defender came off the bench but only tallied five minutes on the floor as he showed limited mobility in his short time in the game.
The most important thing is the fact that Allen wasn’t really needed on Friday night as the Wildcats jumped out to an early lead and the game was never particularly close. That provided an opportunity for Kadeem to practically take the night off, while just testing his knee.
Kadeem Allen’s leadership, grit and defense is a major ingredient to Arizona’s potential success. That was never more evident than the final moments of Arizona’s win over Michigan State. The more time that Kadeem Allen gets to rest the knee and come back at 100%, the better off the Wildcats will be.