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Arizona basketball: Despite early struggles, Sean Miller says Dusan Ristic “will be fine”

Ristic has struggled to score and rebound the basketball

NCAA Basketball: Armed Forces Classic-Arizona vs Michigan State Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

As Lauri Markkanen takes college basketball by storm, averaging 19.5 points and seven rebounds in his first two games with the Arizona Wildcats, his frontcourt partner, Dusan Ristic, hasn’t experienced the same type of success.

Through two games, Ristic is averaging just four points and four rebounds per game in 19.5 minutes, while shooting 3-13 from the field — a noticeable drop off from the junior’s production in his first two seasons with the Wildcats.

While Ristic hasn’t been able to score as efficiently as previous seasons and he’s looked uncomfortable on that end of the floor, Miller is mostly focused on Ristic’s defensive rebounding profiency — or lack thereof.

“We’re always on him to make sure that he defensive rebounds,” Miller said. “Our big guys got to do a good job of rebounding. All good teams, they don’t give you second shots.”

The Wildcats struggled to control the glass in their first two games, allowing 10 offensive rebounds to Cal State Bakersfield and 12 offensive rebounds to Michigan State.

Against CSUB, Arizona led by as many as 21 points in the second half, but eventually the Roadrunners narrowed the lead down to just four. Miller attributed part of that to his team’s inability to finish defensive possessions.

“I would say a big part of Bakersfield’s run in the second half was a flurry of second shots,” he said. “We got the stop and sometimes we really made them work and they missed a shot in the last 10 or 15 seconds, but they got a second shot and a renewed possession and that turned into a 3-point shot or a foul.”

Ristic’s lack of success on the glass was partly to blame. The 7-footer had five rebounds in that game, with only two of them being of the defensive variety.

In Arizona’s season-opening win against Michigan State on Friday, Ristic had just three rebounds.

“He didn’t play as well against Michigan State, but I thought he played better tonight, and I think he’ll keep getting better.” Miller said after the win versus Cal State Bakersfield.

Ristic’s offensive production will undoubtedly increase given his career averages, but he’s never been a dominant rebounder since arriving at Arizona.

Yet, even so, his defensive rebounding numbers have slipped this season, as you can see below.

Ristic’s defensive rebounding percentage — an estimate of the percentage of available defensive rebounds a player grabbed while he was on the floor — is down from the 15.3 percent he posted as a sophomore, as it currently sits at 12.1 percent (for reference, Ryan Anderson and Kaleb Tarczewski were both around 26 percent last season).

Arizona no longer has elite defensive rebounders like Anderson and Tarczewski on the roster to overcome Ristic’s shortcomings, so his improvement in that area is vital for Arizona’s success moving forward.

As Miller said, good teams don’t allow their opponents to get second shots. By that measure, Arizona currently isn’t a good team.

But they can get there if Ristic improves, plus a few other Wildcats chip in on the glass. And even though Ristic scuffled in the first two games, Miller isn’t ready to hit the panic button.

“Dusan’s going to be fine,” he said. “One of the things I’ve learned with him is confidence is really big. He’s our starter for a reason.”

You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire