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Arizona basketball: Allonzo Trier’s return provides a “big lift” vs. UCLA and to the Wildcats’ Final Four hopes

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Trier was a major factor in the Wildcats’ upset over the Bruins. How good can this team be?

Arizona v UCLA Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

With 13:42 left in the first half in a raucous Pauley Pavilion, Allonzo Trier’s long-awaited debut had finally arrived.

After missing the Arizona Wildcats’ first 19 games due to a suspension for a failed drug test, the sophomore checked into his first college game since March 17, 2016.

Chants of “Steroids! Steroids!” echoed throughout the sold-out building.

“We’re around him everyday and he was ready for the opportunity,” head coach Sean Miller said of Trier after the game.

But it didn’t appear that way — at least early on. Instead, Trier looked like a player who, well, had not played in a meaningful game for nearly a calendar year.

On his first touch of the game, Trier lost control of his dribble before recovering it and giving the ball up to a teammate. His first shot attempt came shortly after — a wide open 3 that clanked off the back of the rim.

A few minutes later, a open corner 3 from Trier rimmed out — he was too amped.

“We tried to calm him down because it may be a lot of pressure,” UA guard Kobi Simmons said, referencing Trier, “but after he got settled, after the first eight, nine minutes, he was Trier.”

Indeed. Trier missed his first three shots but, after the nerves subsided, he looked like the player Arizona fans remembered.

He was Trier. Maybe even better.

“He’s a better passer,” Simmons said. “He finds everybody. He opens the court up much more. That just makes it better for everybody. People may have thought we struggled a little bit adding him to the lineup after all these games, but I don’t think we did at all.”

By the end of the first half, Trier had six points, five rebounds, and two assists. Just before the two teams headed to the locker room, the sophomore grabbed a rebound, went coast to coast and kissed the ball off the glass as the buzzer sounded to give Arizona an 11-point lead at the break over a top-5 UCLA team.

“It’s fun every night to play with everybody,” Simmons said. “We added him, we got him going, and then it was just more fun.”

Fun was an appropriate way to characterize this Pac-12 showdown. The two squads played at a dizzying pace, producing highlight play after highlight play.

But the Wildcats, armed with a ninth player, outlasted the Bruins on their home court. There was no second-half meltdown this time.

“Today we didn’t wear down because we had an extra player,” Miller said. “Just that alone really makes us better.”

It helps that Trier is more than just an extra body, too.

“When one of your best players isn’t able to play, you’re a better team with him, and today he played,” Miller said. “Would we have won the game if Allonzo wasn’t able to play today? I don’t know if we would have. He made a big difference.”

Trier finished with 12 points, seven rebounds, and four assists. Despite missing his first three shots, he wound up shooting 4-10 from the field.

“A big lift,” Simmons said of Trier’s impact. “He just adds more depth. [The Bruins] had to change up their gameplan. We added a player they didn’t know was coming, so that was big.”

Arizona didn’t know Trier was playing either until Friday night. It was then that Miller got the news that the guard’s suspension had been lifted.

“It means the world,” Miller said. “It really does. If things didn’t work out for us today and he didn’t play well, it still means the world. A very, very difficult situation not only for him and his family, but for our team, coaches. Just to get that news very unexpectedly, and watching him play, that was great. But he played well too, and he’s a really good player.”

And with another “really good player” back in the mix, the Wildcats’ ceiling as a team has undoubtedly risen. Depth issues are a thing of the past, their talent level is higher, and the team’s confidence is at an all-time high.

“It’s huge,” said Lauri Markkanen of Trier’s return. “Just to give our team confidence. We have almost our whole team once again.”

Arizona is now as complete as it will ever be, and with a perfect 7-0 conference record already in hand, a Pac-12 title seems like a realistic — if not likely — goal.

But, what about a feat greater than that, like a Final Four or a national championship? Surely, if a full-strength Arizona team can beat the same UCLA team that beat Kentucky on its home floor, it can contend for a title.

Right?

“I don’t know, we’ll have to see,” Miller said after beating UCLA. “We gotta take it one game at a time. We went 17-2 without [Trier], and now that he’s back, we’re 1-0.

“Just because we win today doesn’t mean we won anything.”


You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire