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Allonzo Trier scoring at an elite level, but struggling as a defender, distributor

Trier’s scoring numbers are better than ever, but his passing and defensive abilities have regressed

NCAA Basketball: Battle 4 Atlantis-Arizona vs SMU Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

When Allonzo Trier opted to return for his junior season, he immediately became the face of Arizona Wildcats basketball, taking on all the good — and all the bad — that comes along with being the cornerstone of a prestigious program.

“He’s almost like the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys,” head coach Sean Miller said Monday on his radio show. “When America’s Team is doing great, boy you love to be the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys. All eyes are on you and you get a lot of accolades.”

But when things don’t go well, like this past week when Arizona suffered its first three-game losing streak in eight years...

“You start to get a lot of fingers pointing at you,” Miller said. ‘I think that’s a great learning experience for Allonzo because the seat on the bus that he has on this year’s team — he is one of the leaders, he’s one of the most experienced players — we not only need him to play well but we need him to play well on defense and offense.”

Is he doing that so far? Sort of.

Trier is scoring at an elite level, averaging a career-high 24.5 points per game on a career-best 55.8 shooting percentage, but the other aspects of his game are lagging behind.

Turnovers and tough shots

Trier improved greatly as a passer between his freshman and sophomore seasons, more than doubling his assist rate, but he has actually regressed in that area of his game this season.

Despite an increased usage rate (from 25.6 percent to 31.7), Trier’s assist percentage has dropped from 16.6 to 15.2. Even more concerning is that his turnover percentage has increased from 10.9 percent to 14.8 percent.

Meanwhile, his shot percentage has increased from 24.9 percent to 30.5 percent

In other words, Trier has the ball in his hands more this year, is taking more shots, but is tallying fewer assists and more turnovers.

In all, Trier has more turnovers (19) than assists (15) this season. In the Bahamas, Trier had five assists to 12 turnovers.

“Allonzo going into the Battle 4 Atlantis was doing a really great job being efficient with his assist to turnovers. He didn’t do a good job there,” Miller said. “Some of it was on him but some of it was when things aren’t clicking … it’s like football. The quarterback gets blamed a lot but at the end of the day when you look at it sometimes his interceptions or lack of quality is the function of the line not blocking, the receivers not getting open or on that particular route the receivers ran the wrong play.

“No one really knows it except the locker room. We have some of that going on where somebody like Allonzo has to take on the burden of some things that weren’t efficient and that led to turnovers.”

Miller thought UA’s freshmen, besides Deandre Ayton, lost their confidence in the Bahamas, thus leading Trier to try to do much.

And aside from being turnover-prone, Trier shot just 20 for 46 (43.4 percent) from the field and 3-16 from 3. The junior’s shot selection was questionable at times as he isolated a lot, either settling for contested jumpers or drives into traffic instead of finding an open man as he often did in the past.

“There are some things that I think all of us learned, but trust me when I tell you that some of the shots that he took in the Bahamas were more a function of our lack of execution,” Miller said. “You look around and say, ‘he’s not going to shoot it, he’s not going to shoot it, he doesn’t have a lot of confidence right now. Just give me the ball and I’ll take it in.’ Guess what, that never works out well.”

Indeed, Arizona’s offense rated tremendously well in its first three games of the season, but in the Bahamas, where it actually faced quality teams, it struggled quite a bit.

The Wildcats posted offensive efficiencies of 114.9, 90.9, and 92.4 in their three games in Battle 4 Atlantis. Their season average is 117.9.

To be fair to Trier, Arizona isn’t exactly loaded with perimeter players who can create offense which has partly been why his usage rate is so high.

Thus, getting Rawle Alkins back should help him, and the entire team, as a result.

Defensive deficiencies

No Arizona rotation player has rated worse defensively this season than Trier. The junior has a team-worst defensive box plus/minus of -2.1, and he is ninth on the team in Defensive Win Shares.

Steals are in no way a great way to evaluate a player defensively, but they are still a worthwhile stat and Trier has just three all season. He had zero in Atlantis.

Arizona’s defense ranks 257th (of 351) in college basketball this season, allowing 105.2 points per 100 possessions.

It is hard to be a good defensive team when a player who leads the team in minutes, like Trier, has been a liability on that end of the floor.

Miller said UA’s transition defense is the team’s No. 1 problem, and he mentioned Trier and Parker Jackson-Cartwright as those to hold accountable.

“They have to teach the younger guards the importance of it. They have to do it in the game, they have to talk about it and they have to lead in that area,” he said.

Arizona’s No. 2 problem, Miller said, is defensive rebounding.

Trier had a defensive rebounding percentage of 17.8 last year, but that number has dipped to 9.3 this season, a career-low.

Trier has never rated well as a defender, but he showed signs of improvement in his first two seasons in Tucson.

That has not carried over to his junior season and the timing is unfortunate because the Wildcats no longer have Kadeem Allen, who Miller said Arizona misses “a great deal”, while Rawle Alkins, their second-best perimeter defender last season, is still recovering from a broken foot.

“He doesn’t have a lot of room for error in his game right now,” Miller said of Trier. “He’s gotta be hitting on all cylinders for our team to be the best it can be.”

Which Arizona is not at the moment, falling all the way out of the Top 25 for the first time since 2011-12.

The Wildcats can be better, and so can Trier.

“I will say that the biggest challenge that Allonzo has to embrace right now is he cannot be average on defense,” Miller said. “He can’t do the best he can on defense. He can’t even take the disposition that ‘I score, so because of that I’ll be OK on defense, the team doesn’t really need me.’

“We need him to be really good on defense.”