The Arizona Wildcats finished practice Friday afternoon and were on the bus heading back to the team hotel when they got the news.
After 19 games, Allonzo Trier’s suspension was finally over.
“It was how you would picture it,” head coach Sean Miler said of the team’s reaction. “I think you have tremendous relief on [Trier’s] end and great joy among his teammates. They have rode this with him, they’re around him everyday. I think his teammates recognize how hard this has been on him and we have a very unselfish group.
“The guys were really excited and I think Allonzo was excited and tremendously relieved. It’s like the weight of the world fell off of him.”
And it didn’t take long for Trier to make an impact, even though he didn’t know during Friday’s practice that he was going to play the next day.
The sophomore finished with 12 points, seven rebounds, and four assists as the Wildcats upset the third-ranked UCLA Bruins on their home court.
“Striking is how I would describe it,” Miller said of Trier’s performance, “because if you played at this level, the pressure of the game, there’s no practice for it. It’s just different. But you have the opportunity to play for the first time after missing 19 games and that game that you’re allowed to play in is at UCLA, it has all the makings of a disaster. Because that player, you put so much pressure on yourself to be perfect and the speed of the game is different, but I think it says a lot about how prepared Allonzo is.
“We’ve always treated him as if he could play the next game with the repetitions that he’s gotten in practice. He’s not been on the scout team. He’s always been on our side, our team. I think that helped his transition and it will continue to help his transition, now that he is able to continue to play. But he did a great job. Seven defensive rebounds as a guard, that’s a big stat. Four assists, which I think is one off his career-high. He had one of the best plays offensively in the game where he drove the ball into the lane and was under control, stopped, pivoted and found Lauri for a 3-point shot.”
Trier’s four assists were one off his career-high. His ability as a distributor is one area that Trier is noticeably improved from his freshman season.
“And that’s the one thing you’ll see as you start to watch Allonzo, and it’s something that’s been frustrating for us because we watch him everyday,” Miller said of Trier’s passing ability. “He’s a much improved player from a year ago. It’s night and day. He passes the ball better, he understands the team dynamics a lot better. Defensively he’s light years of where he would have been a year ago and his 3-point shooting…being able to make quality 3s, I’d say him and Lauri would be our two best 3-point shooters.
“So it’s going to be exciting to continue to watch him and I got my fingers crossed for not only him, but everyone that we can get a good stretch of health so that we, for the first time, can get some real continuity with him being back.”
Miller described Trier’s return as a “shot of energy” for the Wildcats.
“It’s not a one-game moment,” Miller said. “It’s up to us to build and get him ready, get our team ready. We have almost a shot of energy at a time when not a lot of other teams can feel that way. You’re about ready to head into the second half of conference play here soon. The calendar is turning to February. You as a coach guard against complacency. You worry about practices not being as crisp or sharp as they once were. In our case, it’s almost like we have a new life and a different team. Obviously there’s more competition now than ever and we have to make that to our advantage and hopefully we continue to grow and improve over the next few weeks.”
Miller says with Trier back in the lineup, Arizona has the ability to improve “across the board.”
“You can see why I would say that about offense,” Miller said. “Allonzo brings a double-figure scorer to the table. He brings an excellent 3-point shooter to the table. At the end of games, he’s a deadly free throw shooter. He draws fouls instinctively…that leads to being in the bonus earlier. He gives us more firepower on offense, now it’s up to us to be even more efficient and kind of organize that.
“Defensively, it gives us more depth. We play through foul trouble a little bit better and I think we can hold our team to the highest level of effort. And I don’t mean ‘hey, if you don’t play hard I’m gonna take you out.’ We have great intent, but you can’t help but wear down a little bit when you’re playing in these types of games. We can guard against that that much better so I think our whole entire game can continue to develop.”
The 7th-ranked Wildcats sit at 18-2 with a perfect 7-0 conference record. Yet, with Trier back in the lineup, Arizona feel its best basketball is ahead of it.
That’s a scary thought for the rest of the Pac-12.
“I think the peak of our season has yet to come,” said UA center Dusan Ristic. “We only had Allonzo play one game.”
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