The Arizona Wildcats went the first 19 games without Allonzo Trier, and now they are adjusting to life with him.
So far, the Wildcats (19-2, 8-0 Pac-12) are 2-0 since Trier’s return, but Thursday’s game against Washington State was Arizona’s first real test at implementing Trier into the rotation.
Last Saturday against UCLA — when Trier made his debut — Rawle Alkins picked up two early fouls in the first half, forcing him to sit for a significant period of time and allowing Trier to take his spot in the rotation.
But Thursday against WSU, there was no foul trouble, so inserting Trier into the rotation “felt funny” for UA head coach Sean Miller.
“Guys were going in and out of the game a little bit more,” Miller said. “We’re trying to develop a rotation and figure things out, but we’re just not there yet.
“You can’t just incorporate a player ... and all of a sudden just be hitting on all cylinders from the first second that he’s able to play until now.”
And it didn’t just “feel funny” for the Wildcats, their performance on the court looked funny, too.
The Cougars, despite having an offense that ranked nearly 200th nationally, were able to shoot 47 percent from the field against Arizona, and had a lot of success attacking the Wildcats in transition.
Without watching the tape, Miller couldn’t say if his team’s defensive struggles were due to its ever-changing rotation, but he wouldn’t be surprised if that played a part in it.
“Sometimes that happens as different combinations of players are in together for the first time,” Miller said. “That’s what it looks like in November. You’re just not used to each other and that’s something we have to work on and correct. That’s all part of what I’m talking about of incorporating a new face with new rotations. You’re looking around and you’ve never been in the game with that combination of players before, so it’ll work itself out.”
Seeing that Arizona is on a 13-game winning streak, it may seem like a hindrance for the Wildcats to have to figure out how to incorporate another player at this stage of the season, but Miller doesn’t see it that way.
“It’s not a negative, it’s a positive,” Miller said. “But I don’t think anybody in here would expect us to be a finely-tuned machine across the board. It’s going to take a few more games, it’s going to take a few more practices and more of us as a staff watching film. It’s going to take a couple games, it’s going to take a few weeks.”
Trier admitted that he is out of rhythm, but his presence has already benefitted the Wildcats in several ways.
For one, he gives Arizona more offensive firepower.
The sophomore guard is averaging 14.5 points per game through two games and is shooting 46 percent from the field. Plus, he has been able to use his penchant to get into the paint to set up shots for teammates as well. Trier has 11 assists in two games, including a career-high seven assist performance against WSU.
Perhaps most importantly, though, Trier’s presence has already made a difference in how Arizona closes games out.
Earlier in the season when the Wildcats had just seven or eight scholarship players, they would wear down at the end of the games. Several times, Arizona nearly squandered double-digit leads in the late goings.
But, for maybe the first time all season, Arizona’s lead actually increased in the final stretch of the game against WSU. The Wildcats pulled away to a 17-point victory despite leading by two with 12 minutes to play.
“One thing I do know is this,” Miller said, “the last eight minutes this season have been very hard for us. We’ve limped to the finish line a number of times. Tonight, from the eight-minute mark to the zero (minute mark), the score went the other direction. I can’t think of many games, if we’ve had any at all, where that’s happened this year. So we have to learn how to take advantage of our depth.”
In the end, having their leading returning scorer from a season ago should only help the Wildcats in the long run, but there are still a few kinks they have to work through in the short term.
When all is said and done, many believe the final product will be an Arizona team that is as good as any in college basketball, one that can contend for a national championship.
The Wildcats aren’t there yet, though.
“We’re a work in progress in a lot of ways ... and (Sunday’s game versus) Washington is another opportunity to grow and improve,” Miller said. “We’re trying to work through some things here that I hope if you watch us a week from now will be that much further along.”
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