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Arizona basketball: Dusan Ristic is anchoring the Wildcats’ offense

Ristic has been crazy efficient since Pac-12 play started, plus he helps Arizona scope out opposing teams’ defenses

NCAA Basketball: Colorado at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

When in doubt, feed the ball to Dusan Ristic — it’s been a simple, yet effective strategy for the Arizona Wildcats lately.

The 7-footer has scored in double figures in 11 of Arizona’s last 12 games, and since Pac-12 play began, he is averaging just north of 16 points per game, while shooting 65 percent from the field.

“He has the softest touch I’ve seen around the basket,” said Lauri Markkanen, Ristic’s frontcourt partner. “If you play good defense he can still score.”

Indeed, meanwhile Ristic has the lowest turnover percentage (7.6) and the highest usage rate (23.9) of his career, too.

The Wildcats are getting him the ball more often than ever and they’re reaping the benefits, as they are currently riding a 10-game winning streak.

“It’s smart for us to go to him right now,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said Monday at his weekly press conference. “His efficiency is off the charts. His shooting percentage, he’s really become better at taking care of the ball...and how he handles the trap.”

Ristic’s impact stretches far beyond counting-stats like points, rebounds, or turnovers, though.

Feeding the Serbian on the low block not only gives Ristic a chance at a high-percentage shot, it gives him a chance to create a shot for a teammate and — perhaps most importantly — it allows Arizona to scope out its opponent’s defensive gameplan.

“Sometimes when you throw it to him early, you start to have a feel for what [the opposing team] is going to do,” Miller explained. “Are they going to double team him? Are they going to leave one of our guards? Are they going to work hard to front him? Are they going to play behind? How does it feel when he catches it? Is a guy potentially going to foul him?

“Going to him early gives you a bigger picture.”

In the past, Ristic was primarily a scorer only. When he caught the ball on the low block, more often than not he was going to put up a shot. However, he has become more patient and able as a passer in his third year, leading him to be a multi-dimensional threat.

“I feel like Dusan is probably the best big in the country right now offensively,” UA forward Rawle Alkins said. “He’s a beast. So we work it inside-out and we play through the bigs. We trust him with the ball. We know he makes the right decisions and the right plays, so if he’s getting trapped, he kicks it to first wide open man that he sees.”

It is textbook post play as far as Miller is concerned.

“We worked out over the weekend and if you video’d him on a post workout, you would be able to show every young, developing post player that this is how it looks,” Miller said. “Left hand, right hand, it doesn’t matter.”

Part of Ristic’s improvement can be attributed to the fact that he is another year older and another year more experienced. Some might say it’s because he is more confident.

But Miller says it’s because of his work ethic.

“Like I’ve said time and time again, Dusan is a product of his own work ethic,” Miller said. “No one has invested more. This summer, you could drive in at nine in the morning and look over in the sand volleyball court and there he is in socks with (strength and conditioning coach) Chris Rounds, running in a sand pit.

“He’s done whatever he’s needed to do to help his agility, to get his body fat right. ...When you look at him physically, he’s just better, he’s bigger, he’s stronger, he moves better. That’s not an easy thing to do for a 7-footer and I think it’s nice to see him have this type of success.”

You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire