Arizona Wildcats head coach Sean Miller said that what he wanted to see from his team when they met the 6-7 Long Beach State 49ers on Tuesday night, before they left for Christmas break, was maturity. As players book flights and arrange visits with family and friends, there lurks on-court the serious possibility of a dip in focus.
Miller need not be concerned. The Wildcats led by ten at halftime, and while the 49ers pulled to within eight late in the second half, Miller’s squad demonstrated enough poise to defeat the 49ers 85-70.
Here are the three most important things to be learned from their impressive performance.
1. The big men are cruising
Playing against a 49ers team whose tallest player is 6’8 freshman Mason Riggins, starting center Dusan Ristic and Ryan Anderson were relentless in the post. Anderson muscled his way to 14 rebounds and 11 points, his third-straight double-double, and sixth on the season. Risitc, who scored a career-high 20 points last game against UNLV, was not as explosive, but still managed 11 points, three more than his average, and grabbed three boards. As a team, the Wildcats outrebounded the 49ers 40-20 and capitalized on the 49ers’ 25 fouls, shooting 28-32 from the line. Teams are simply going to have to find a way to limit Arizona’s big men because even without injured starting center Kaleb Tarczewski, their inside game is a big-time force. May it continue to be strong with them. Pun intended, thank you very much.
2. Allonzo Trier is legitimate
The 6’4 freshman came into the game averaging 13.2 PPG, but scored 20 points, the third time this season he has scored at least that much. He was 3-of-5 from deep and 7-for-8 from the line, not to mention picking the 49ers guards for three steals. But maybe most encouraging was his decision-making: he dished when he saw the open man, penetrated when he saw space, and shot when he was open. He committed only one turnover and mostly did not try to force plays that the defense clearly took away. Early on, the consensus seemed to be that Anderson was Arizona’s best player, but that may soon change if Trier continues to make significant strides both physically and mentally.
3. The deep ball is alive and well
It’s no secret that Arizona struggled in this area coming into the game, as a team making only 61 threes and shooting 32.1%. But things changed against the 49ers. Trier led the way with three, while small forward Mark Tollefsen and guard Gabe York each added two. As a team, the Wildcats were 9-19, good for 47.4%. Even sophomore guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright, who came into the game having not made one single three since December 5th against Gonzaga, finally hit a three after several misses and finished with five points. And what a relief. His frustration and dejection has been palpable, his whole demeanor instantly sulking after every miss. If Arizona’s proficiency from deep continues, and Jackson-Cartwright doesn’t sink back into his funk but provides his team with periodic bursts of points, they will be more than ready for their rematch against Pac-12 foe Arizona State on January 3rd.