On Saturday night, the rivalry was renewed and the kids wearing red and blue, some of whom weren’t even born the last time these teams met in Albuquerque, know nothing about the nightmares of old. Instead, they turned The Pit into their own personal playground, putting on what could be their finest offensive performance of the season to date.
The Wildcats took it to the Lobos, 89-73, winning their fifth consecutive game and moving to 8-3 on the season.
Let’s take a look at some of the big positives and negatives from a very promising Arizona performance.
Well, he’s back. That’s for sure.
Alkins was explosive and efficient on Saturday night and his robust stat line is evidence of that. Alkins finished with a career-high 26 points on 9-of-11 shooting and 3-for-3 from deep to go with five rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block.
This is the biggest development for Arizona thus far this season. Alkins adds offensive versatility and defensive toughness. What’s more than that though is the Wildcats have desperately needed a third man to step up to take some of the onus off of Allonzo Trier and Deandre Ayton. Through the first nine games, Arizona was averaging 83.6 points per game. Trier and Ayton combined for 41.6 of that.
With Alkins, Arizona is at full strength and have a legitimate big three to lean on. Last night, Alkins, Trier and Ayton combined for 62 of the team’s 89 points scored and did it while shooting an excellent 72 percent from the floor.
Trier opened the season with unbelievable volume scoring, putting up 27 or more in the first four games of the season. As impressive as that was, he’s put together the best two-game stretch of his college career in the last two games.
Last night, Trier scored 22 points on 6-of-9 shooting, following his game last Saturday against Alabama where he scored 25 points on 4-of-6 shooting. That’s 47 points on 10-of-15 shooting, including 5-of-6 from deep. That is efficiency on a whole other level.
Trier’s aggression has really added another dimension to the Wildcats’ offense. He’s no longer forcing jumpshots. Instead, he’s forcing his way to the rim and creating contact. In the last two games, he’s ended up taking 25 free throws, making 22. It’s also opened up his playmaking, averaging 5.5 assists in the last two.
He’s on the attack and everyone is benefiting right now.
Arizona was excellent from deep last night, hitting 9-of-13 from long range.
This was Arizona’s best shooting of the season for several reasons that go beyond percentages. Everyone hit open shots, everyone made the extra pass and perhaps most important, very little was forced. Arizona’s offense operated through the big three, Parker Jackson-Cartwright was reliable and the supporting cast didn’t settle for bad shots.
Arizona shot 69 percent from deep and 64 percent overall. Frankly, it’s surprising they didn’t win by more than 16. To find the reason why, we need to look at the flip side.
New Mexico stayed in the game thanks to 12 made 3-pointers and honestly, it could have been far, far worse. The Lobos took 34 3-pointers and it’s not like they missed 22 of them because of Arizona’s stifling defense.
Most of New Mexico’s 3-point shots were wide open or were half-heartedly contested at the last second and they just happened to miss them. We’ve touched on Arizona’s lazy closeouts earlier in the season and hoped that maybe Rawle Alkins’ defensive intensity would rub off on his teammates.
Maybe it will but it hasn’t yet. Instead of closing out on 3-point shooters, the Wildcats looked like middle schoolers running toward shooters yelling, “Miss!” and flailing their arms in the air. It was not the most inspired effort.
A comfortable win is a comfortable win no matter what. But Arizona played about as well on offense as they can. It would be a shame if a 64 percent shooting clip was ruined by lackadaisical perimeter defending. New Mexico was just a few open 3s bouncing the right way away from stunning the Wildcats on one of their best nights. That’s unacceptable.
We talked about how well the big three played. In addition to that, Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Dusan Ristic each chipped in eight points, meaning the starters combined for 78 of the team’s 89 points. While the team shot 64 percent from the floor, the starters actually shot 72.5 percent.
The bench only scored 11 points and had an ugly game. To their credit, Dylan Smith and Brandon Randolph each knocked down an open 3-pointer and Randolph, though he only played 14 minutes, looked like a consistently competent contributor. Smith had multiple sloppy moments, giving the ball away twice but there could have been more in his 18 minutes.
Ira Lee only played 10 minutes. Keanu Pinder logged two. Emmanuel Akot didn’t play at all.
When the starters play the way they did last night, it’s only logical that they stay on the floor. But Arizona’s depth was among the most hyped advantages this team was supposed to have entering the season. The bench isn’t getting much of a shot and when they did last night, it wasn’t particularly pretty. Having real depth come March would be huge. It will be interesting to see who separates themselves from the group.
In their last three games, Arizona has given the ball up 33 times. That’s not a terrible number. But when you consider that they’ve only forced 26 turnovers in that time, the 33 suddenly doesn’t look so good.
New Mexico’s biggest strength is forcing turnovers, forcing 20 per game entering last night’s contest. To Arizona’s credit, they stayed poised and under control, only giving away 10 turnovers against a team with very active hands and a consistent full court press. And yet, Arizona lost the turnover battle.
The Wildcats currently rank 272nd in the nation when it comes to forcing turnovers. With their athleticism, once they start forcing turnovers, they can orchestrate some of the most terrifying fast breaks in the country.
If this weakness gets corrected, there will be very little chance of stopping Arizona.