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Arizona basketball: Dusan Ristic finds his form vs. Sacred Heart

The Wildcats will need more production like this from their starting center moving forward

Sacred Heart v Arizona Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Through two regular season games, there was really only one player on the Arizona Wildcats that you could say was underperforming, and that was Dusan Ristic.

That was not the case on Friday night.

After Tuesday’s win over Cal State Bakersfield, Sean Miller said that Ristic was “going to be fine”. Turns out, Miller knew exactly what he was talking about.

The seven-footer from Serbia put up 13 points, 15 rebounds, two blocks, two steals, and two assists against Sacred Heart on Friday in just 22 minutes of action. This is his new career-high in rebounds, and it was his first career double-double.

“This is a game that I feel better after,” Ristic said. “I played pretty bad the first two games, but my confidence didn’t go down. We won the first two games, so I wasn’t really concerned. And we won this game too, and now we’re 3-0 and looking forward to the next game.”

The rebounding numbers are probably what jump out most about Dusan’s night. Sacred Heart is a small team, but that has been a bit of a problem for Ristic when trying to adjust to that anyway.

“Somebody may say ‘of course, he’s the biggest guy on the court, he should have 15 rebounds’,” Miller said after Friday night’s performance. “I would just say then, would he have gotten 15 rebounds a year ago in this game? No way.”

“It’s a little hard to adjust to smaller matchups, especially when they trap you in the post and double team you,” Ristic explained. “But like I said, you have to adjust to every possible matchup.”

In just the first four minutes of the game, the productivity was on a whole new level for Ristic, putting up six points and four rebounds right out of the gate.

“I just thought he was more aggressive,” Parker Jackson-Cartwright said of his teammate’s fast start. “He came out with the right mindset, and was just doing his job. Dusan has the right mindset every game, and in practice, and it really showed tonight.”

“I’m happy for him that he got it going on both ends of the floor,” continued Jackson-Cartwright. “He looked like himself, and we just wanted him to have that same energy.”

“I really was happy with Dusan’s aggressiveness,” Coach Miller added. “He has put a ton of work in, and he has earned his starting position.”

Getting Ristic the ball early wasn’t necessarily a focus heading into this particular game, but was certainly a byproduct of the early looks Arizona got.

“Getting the ball close to the basket, whether we’re driving it, offensive rebounds, throwing the ball in the post, we want to do that,” explained Miller.

Some people have wondered if maybe bringing Dusan off the bench rather than starting him would better suit his personality if you will, but Arizona is content with letting the big man settle into his new role.

“There’s a difference between starting and coming off the bench,” Miller said. “When you’re a starter, you feel game pressure and the intensity of the first four minutes. There’s a lot at stake; the score’s zero-zero. It takes you some time to get used to that feeling. And it’s not just Dusan, but that group in general is starting to get used to going out there and getting us off to a good start.”

“But he was clearly ready to play tonight, and that doesn’t surprise me.”

Arizona returns to action on Monday night when it hosts Northern Colorado. That game will tip at 7 PM MT on Pac-12 Networks.