In their season opener, the Arizona Wildcats wasted no time showing why they’re national championship contenders, beating the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks, 101-67.
The Lumberjacks managed to keep things relatively close early, shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor in the first half and trailing by only 13 at half.
Before too long, though, Arizona pulled away, extending the lead to more than 25. Sean Miller felt so comfortable that walk-on Jake DesJardins checked in with more than five minutes left. Miller rarely puts a walk-on in that early. Perhaps the absences of Keanu Pinder, Dylan Smith, and Brandon Randolph had something to do with that.
Arizona’s talent just couldn’t be stopped. Allonzo Trier finished with 32 points on only 13 shots, which seems impossible. He scored in every way imaginable — he made mid-range shots, he made threes, and he got to the rim at-will. He might be the best pure scorer in all of college basketball.
Deandre Ayton, meanwhile, put up an effortless double-double, finishing with 19 points and 12 rebounds in his first “official” collegiate game. He also finished with 3 blocks, even picking one up after switching onto an NAU guard on the perimeter, staying on his hip on the drive, and swatting the shot away at the rim. Fellow freshman Alex Barcello also impressed, putting up 9 points to go along with 3 assists.
Really, everyone contributed. Dusan Ristic put up 20 and even had 2 blocks, though his defense still needs work. Parker Jackson-Cartwright added 5 points and, more impressively 8 assists. And though he struggled from three, Emmanuel Akot put up 7 points and 5 rebounds while playing impressive defense.
The Wildcats didn’t play perfect. In the first half, in particular, the defense let NAU score too often and too easily. NAU’s Isaiah Thomas (yes, there’s yet another one) finished with 11, and Gilbert native Chris Bowling also had 11.
As the game went on, though, Arizona’s defense tightened, ultimately holding NAU to 39.7% from the floor, forcing 13 turnovers, and, most impressively, drawing 24 fouls. The Wildcats also leveraged their size, outrebounding NAU 43-25.
Offensively, the Wildcats looked smooth. They utilized ball screens more than in past seasons, with Ayton and Ristic routinely running the pick and roll with Trier or Barcello. They moved the ball better than in past years, not hesitating to swing the ball around the perimeter. And they continued to pass the ball well out of the post, with Ayton showing off with a one-handed touch pass from the post as he and Trier flawlessly executed the two-man game.
Maybe this game doesn’t tell us much. Arizona routinely drubs NAU in these early season games - they won by 55 in the 2015-16 season and ended up losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Wichita State.
Still, Arizona looked like a national championship contender, Trier looked like a national player of the year candidate, and Ayton looked like a potential No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft. The sky is still the limit for these Wildcats.