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Deandre Ayton ‘rises to the challenge’ in Arizona’s win over Alabama

Ayton had a career night and hit two clutch shots down the stretch in Arizona’s win over Alabama

Alabama v Arizona Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

There were 19 NBA scouts, two general managers, and three assistant GMs crammed into McKale Center on Saturday, hoping to get an up-close look at Arizona uber-freshman Deandre Ayton.

They probably left the building salivating.

The surefire top-five pick posted career-highs in points (29) and rebounds (18) as the Arizona Wildcats took down the Alabama Crimson Tide, 88-82.

Ayton was an efficient 12-18 from the field, scoring in a wide variety of ways. The 7-footer dunked, used his footwork and touch on the low block, sank a 3, and hit several mid-range jumpers.

All while controlling the glass.

“Deandre Ayton was the difference tonight,” head coach Sean Miller said bluntly.

When asked if he thought Ayton’s performance was going to make a statement with NBA personnel, Miller shrugged.

"I don’t know what statement he needs to make,” he said.

Indeed, nobody should have been surprised by Ayton’s performance Saturday.

After all, the big man has eight double-doubles in 10 games, and is averaging 20.5 points and 11.9 rebounds per contest. KenPom places Ayton fourth in its Player of the Year standings.

And just last Saturday, Ayton had 28 points and 10 rebounds in Arizona’s gritty road win at UNLV.

“He does what he does,” said Allonzo Trier, who scored 25 points Saturday. “It’s kind of routine for us now.”

Miller has not been coy when evaluating Ayton. Miller deemed him to be a once-in-a-generation talent before he even arrived at Arizona.

And on Saturday, Miller likened some of Ayton’s attributes, like his tantalizing combination of size and mobility and basketball IQ, to those of Hakeem Olajuwon, Kevin Garnett, and David West.

Because comparing him to anyone else would be a disservice.

“I don’t say this in a disparaging way at all, because I know there are some other great, great players, I just have a hard time believing there’s anybody better than him,” Miller said.

An article from The Ringer recently called out Ayton for his lack of shot-blocking, awareness, and effort on defense.

Miller wasn’t having it.

“I don’t want to hear anything about his motor. They’re almost fabricating and inventing things that aren’t true,” he said. “He is a special, special talent and we’ve seen it in a number of situations when the game is really on the line, he rises to the challenge.”

Saturday night was one of them. Ayton capped off his career day by drilling two mid-range jumpers to seal Arizona’s win over a pesky Alabama team.

NBA teams might still be trying to figure out what type of player Ayton is, but Miller and Arizona know darn well what the 7-footer is capable of — and who knows where they would be without him.

“He dominates the game on both ends of the floor and makes it easier for us,” Trier said. “He’s a weapon that nobody else in the country has, so we have to make sure we take advantage of it at all times.”

Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire