Through roughly half of the schedule, one of the biggest storylines for the Arizona Wildcats has been Dusan Ristic’s improved play.
In 17 games, Ristic is averaging career highs (by far) in minutes (24.6), points (11.9), rebounds (6.0), and free-throw percentage (76.1%).
“I just think his confidence,” fellow junior Parker Jackson-Cartwright said simply when asked what’s different about Dusan this year. “We always had confidence in him as a player and the way he can score down low, and his defense is improved.”
“But I just think his confidence — his all-around aura — is shining this year. He’s playing really well, and he’s one of our leaders.”
You can play what came first, the confidence or the improved skillset? One thing is for sure, and that is that the coaches that have seen Ristic each of the last three years are taking notice of how much better he is this season compared to the past two.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for guys that really improve from their freshman year to their sophomore year to their junior year like he has,” Colorado head coach Tad Boyle said. “It shows that he’s really worked on his game and credit goes to him and their staff.”
“The kid’s been playing well, and he continues to play well,” Utah’s Larry Krystkowiak added about Dusan.
At the end of the Colorado game, there was a pass that surely would have gone out of bounds, but Ristic got his big mitts on the ball, and kept the play alive, resulting in points instead of a turnover.
“He can catch the ball and he can finish in traffic,” Boyle explained of what Dusan is better at now. “That’s something he struggled with his first couple of years. He couldn’t do that when he was a freshman. And he can go over either shoulder now. He’s just a terrific player now.”
Here’s a highlight from the Utah game that really demonstrates that:
And then there was this finish in traffic:
These are both plays that Ristic would rarely make in his first two seasons, and now he’s making them on a regular basis.
With one seven-footer doing that, and the other seven-footer bombing threes from all around the floor, Arizona is going to be a tough matchup for many teams come March.