The Arizona Wildcats beat North Dakota State 83-53 on Monday for their sixth straight win, but it was dampened by the loss of star guard Allonzo Trier, who exited with a knee injury in the second half.
Arizona’s leading scorer banged his left knee against Paul Miller as the NDSU guard made a move toward the basket with 9:55 left in regulation.
Here is how Allonzo Trier injured his left knee. He was helped to the locker room with a pretty bad limp. pic.twitter.com/ASi3sFW4qg— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) December 19, 2017
Trier immediately fell to the floor, clutched his knee and repeatedly pounded the court in obvious pain.
He was helped to the locker room by team trainers and would not return to the game, but Arizona coach Sean Miller seemed optimistic about the injury, believing Trier suffered “some sort of bone bruise.”
“If it’s more than that it would have happened because he collided with another guy’s knee,” Miller said after the game. “It’s scary for a player when that happens. It doesn’t feel right, but we’re hoping for some good news. It seems to be positive, but we’ll know more (Tuesday).”
Trier had 15 points and four assists on 5-8 shooting before exiting. His injury overshadowed a performance by the Wildcats that Miller was “very happy” with.
Arizona shot 50 percent from the field (though just 5-20 from 3) and held NDSU to 37 percent shooting.
“We put it together on offense and defense,” Miller said.
Deandre Ayton led Arizona with a game-high 25 points and nine rebounds.
After Ayton took just nine shots against New Mexico on Saturday, Miller admitted Arizona could have done a better job getting him the ball.
They did that Monday. Ayton was 11-17 from the field.
“He has to get the ball and for him to get the ball we have to throw it to him,” Miller said. “One, he is a great passer. Two, he is a great free throw shooter. Not to mention he’s shooting 60 percent when he gets the ball in (the paint).”
Ayton had several highlight plays including a fallaway jumper, an Olajuwon-esque dropstep that led to a dunk, and several alley-oops, including one from Trier that put Arizona up 38-22 at halftime.
NDSU chose not to double team Ayton, which the 7-footer called “paradise.”
“I usually don’t see the one defender that’s on me,” he said. “I look at the help defender.”
Rawle Alkins added 11 points and six rebounds in his second start of the season. He was 3-8 from the field, 0-3 from 3, and 5-6 from the charity stripe — a step back from the 26-point outing he had Saturday at New Mexico.
“I want to caution everyone on Rawle,” Miller said. “It’s not easy to sit eight weeks and get plugged back in and be clicking on all cylinders. He had a great game against New Mexico and tonight he did some good things, but he didn’t play as well.
“As of now we don’t have many plays for Rawle because he was out for so long, so we still have to work him back into our offense.”
Playing in its second game in three days, Arizona started the game like, well, a team playing its second game in three days.
The Bison made four early 3s to jump out to a 16-13 lead and had the game tied at 22 with 6:32 left in the first half.
But Arizona (9-3) finished the half on a 16-0 run and outscored NDSU 45-31 in the second half. The Bison finished just 8-27 from 3.
“We didn’t defend the 3 well against New Mexico, but tonight we did against a team that really relies on the 3,” Miller said. “Of the eight they made, most of them were contested, which was our goal coming into the game.”
Arizona outrebounded NDSU 41-29 and had a 34-21 edge in points in the paint.
Dusan Ristic had eight points and eight rebounds, along with one assist, finding Parker Jackson-Cartwright on the wing for a 3 which extended Arizona’s lead to 30-22.
Those were Jackson-Cartwright’s only points, but he did have three assists and zero turnovers. Arizona only had five turnovers as a team. NDSU had 13.
“When you watch them on film they don’t give you a good feeling,” Miller said of NDSU. “They’re a tough team to defend. The first 10 minutes are a reflection of that. They challenged our defense and I thought we did a good job. Offensively, we played consistent. I haven’t seen many teams that have had five turnovers.”
With the game out of hand, Arizona was able to utilize its bench and continue to sort out its rotation.
Brandon Randolph had seven points in 21 minutes, while Ira Lee and Dylan Smith each had four points in 17 minutes
Alex Barcello and Emmanuel Akot played 10 minutes. Akot had two points. Barcello had four.
“Credit our bench, they came in and played well tonight,” Miller said. “I think some of our younger guys are starting to put some things together which is usually what happens around the start of Pac-12 play.”
Barcello missed the New Mexico game Saturday with a left ankle sprain and Akot did not play in the previous two games due to knee tendinitis, but both were healthy enough to suit up Monday.
Akot was a +12 in 10 minutes, hitting a pull-up jumper and playing solid defense.
“If that (knee tendinitis) goes away, he could be a guy that could be a big part of what we do down the stretch,” Miller said. “He’s worked hard and you saw tonight that he made some big plays.”
Still, Miller said the rotation is the “furthest thing” from being settled.
“We’d like to have (the rotation) settled now ... but with so many news players and with Rawle being out as long as he was, it’s taking a lot longer,” he said. “But we’re getting closer and the guys know it.”
Arizona returns to the floor Thursday when it hosts UConn at 7 p.m. MST. Alkins, a New York native, knows what to expect from the visiting Huskies.
“East Coast guys are always tough,” he said. “It’s an ESPN game too so it’ll be hyped up. The tougher team will come out on top.”
Whether or not Trier will play in that game remains to be seen.
“We think he's doing well,” Alkins said, “but time will tell."
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire