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Arizona basketball: Allonzo Trier is excited and relieved to be back, but is “really far behind”

Trier is far from where he wants to be, but is relieved that he is back on the court

NCAA Basketball: Washington State at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

A sold-out crowd rose to its feet in a raucous McKale Center during the first half of Arizona’s win over Washington State.

Hands were clapping. Towels were waving. Fans were hollering.

“Now in the game for Arizona,” blared over the loudspeaker, “number 35, Allonzo Trier.”

“It was a great feeling,” Trier said after playing in his first home game since March of 2016. “It felt like it was an eternity for how long I haven’t played in there. But I was really excited, the energy was great.”

It hadn’t quite been an eternity since Trier’s last appearance in McKale Center — it was nearly 10 months — but it’s easy to understand why it felt that way.

Trier was limited to being a spectator in Arizona’s first 19 games of the season, and there was no return in sight.

The sophomore tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug in the fall, and was handed a year-long suspension by the NCAA. Trier appealed the NCAA’s decision — and won — but the drug had to completely clear out of his system before he could suit up for the Wildcats again.

Who knew when that would be? Trier and the Wildcats certainly didn’t.

“Tough. Stressful,” Trier described the situation. “Probably one of the most difficult things in my life. ...I wanted to be out there with teammates and it’s a helpless feeling but I stayed strong through it and God had me right where he wanted me.”

Trier did the only thing he could do — practice hard, encourage his teammates...and wait.

“It was tough, but I love the game of basketball so even though I couldn’t play, I stayed around the game as much as I could,” Trier said. “I was always in the gym, I practiced with my teammates every day and I tried to make an impact in any way I could. So even though I couldn’t play, I tried to be there for my teammates and cheer them on. And in practice I tried to do my part and practicing hard and helping these guys get prepared for the games.”

Which is what he was doing last Friday before he got the news he was desperately waiting for. After helping Arizona prepare for a Saturday showdown against UCLA — a game he did not know he was going to play in — Trier learned his suspension had been lifted.

“Relief. That’s the best thing I can say,” Trier said of his reaction. “I broke down when I got told. It was an emotional moment for me.”

Despite missing three months, it hasn’t taken long for Trier to make his presence felt on the court. In two games since his return — both of which were wins for the 19-2 Wildcats — the 6-foot-5 guard is averaging 14.5 points per game while shooting 45 percent from the field.

He’s added another dimension to his game, too — an ability to find open teammates.

Trier dished out 31 assists in 27 games a season ago, but already has 11 in two games as a sophomore.

“He’s at over one-third of his assist total from a year ago in two games,” head coach Sean Miller said. “He’s a much better player. You see that and he adds a dimension to our team that we’re grateful to have.”

Still, Trier says it “feels funny” when he is on the court and there are moments where he is “out of whack” with the rest of the team.

“I’m still really far behind,” Trier said after posting 17 points and a career-high seven assists against WSU. “This is my second game in about 10 months, so everybody is a lot farther ahead of me. I’m still not in a lot of rhythm, but as I continue to play more, I’ll find my way and I’ll get back to myself.”

Miller, too, said it “felt funny” on Thursday as the Wildcats were continually subbing players in and out against Washington State.

“Everybody else has to learn their role, [Trier] has to learn his and I think that as we keep moving forward, it will even out as it always does,” Miller said.

“Every game that goes by... he’ll eventually settle in. If you look at the start of a season, it usually takes a couple exhibition games — which he didn’t even have that — a few of the regular season games, a game on the road, a game at home, and all of a sudden you start to see that everybody settles.

“And that’s where we are right now — we’re in that settling in process.”

Getting Trier up to speed and working him back into the rotation is Arizona’s biggest challenge at the moment.

Trier said he does not know how long it will take for him to be completely readjusted, though it sure beats the days when he wasn’t sure when or if he was going to play at all.

“It’s definitely something I’m looking forward to moving on from and not looking back on anymore,” Trier said of his suspension.

“I’m really happy for our team and we’re moving in the right direction. I know things are going to feel a little funny implementing me back into the team, but we’re going to continue to get better and we have a ceiling that we can reach.”

You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire