The Arizona Wildcats and Alabama Crimson Tide hooked up for a highly-entertaining contest on Saturday night that saw the Wildcats come away with an 88-82 victory and their fourth straight win.
Alabama hung tough with the Wildcats despite falling behind by 11 early. Alabama answered with a 13-2 run and actually ended up leading at the half by two after their freshman phenom, Collin Sexton, banked in a 3 in the final seconds.
The teams went shot for shot for much of the second half before Arizona pulled away behind a couple mid-range jumpers from, well, the subject of our first section of three up, three down.
Let’s dive in.
We realize this is getting redundant. Deandre Ayton is a very good basketball player. Come on, let’s find something new to say.
But we should just get used to talking up Ayton’s game every time the Wildcats take the floor because, frankly, he’s unbelievable.
Ayton had his eighth double-double in ten games and this one was a doozy. He piled up 29 points, 18 rebounds, an assist and a block. Six of the 18 boards were offensive. He shot 12 of 18 from the floor, hit a 3, was a force around the rim and as mentioned earlier, put the game away with two mid-range jumpers in the final minutes. That’s ridiculous.
There’s plenty of positives and negatives about the current state of college basketball as it pertains to the NBA’s one-and-done rule. Being lucky enough to see Ayton and Alabama’s Sexton to back and forth in McKale Center is indisputably a positive.
Trier only scored five points in the first half, an odd half of basketball for Trier which saw him go without a shot attempt for nearly 16 minutes. Arizona needed him to be more aggressive in the second half.
You ask and you shall receive.
Trier’s second half was perhaps him at his best. He scored 20 second-half points, most of which came from the free throw line. Trier ended up with a silly looking line of 25 points on 4 of 6 shooting and 3 of 4 from beyond the arc.
Arizona needs more of this. You’d think they’d need more than six shots from Trier but in reality, as long as Trier is forcing his way to the basket and at least getting to the line, the Wildcats are very difficult to stop at the offensive end. When Trier is driving, it opens up his entire offensive arsenal, leaving more possibilities for spacing on those step-back jumpers he loves to take.
It should also be noted that Trier’s playmaking ability was top notch on Saturday night, dishing six assists. We’ve also seen an uptick in effort at the defensive end the last few games from Trier, including a fantastic highlight reel block. It was a great night for Allonzo.
Alkins’ Energetic Defense
On Saturday night, we found something that’s been missing from this team — energy. And it came from, who else, the guy making his season debut, Rawle Alkins.
In 22 minutes of action, Alkins didn’t fully look to be himself but on the defensive end, he was back to being half grit and half marvel. He had a steal and a block, the block was a particularly impressive feat of athleticism for a guy 11 weeks removed from foot surgery.
But it’s not just raw stats that showed Alkins’ defensive influence. His closeouts were crisp, his speed looked normal and it seemed as if there was more energy at the defensive end from the entire team. If Alkins’ defense rubs off on his teammates, that would fix Arizona’s biggest weakness in a big way.
Alkins’ Offensive Rust
It wasn’t all bad at the offensive end. Rawle displayed his pretty footwork with a spin move that led to a tough layup. He didn’t shy away from contact, pulling down a tough offensive rebound.
And, something to really watch here, his drive-and-kick game was very nice on Saturday night and can become a big part of Arizona’s offense in the near future.
But, unfortunately, Alkins did have some moments where he was out of sorts on the offensive end. He badly missed a couple 3-pointers, including one that barely touched the net. Even when he caught the ball in rhythm, he didn’t stay in rhythm to take his shot, stalling to set his feet nearly every time he caught the ball. Alkins also didn’t move without the ball much unless the Wildcats were running in transition and gave away two ugly turnovers.
His return is a process and he’ll be fine in the long run. But it’s important that Alkins figure things out offensively and develop into a third option for Arizona. The Cats can’t count on Ayton and Trier combining for 54 points every time out.
Allonzo Trier shot 14-of-16 from the charity stripe. That’s the good news.
Beyond that, Arizona had an ugly performance from the line, combining for 8-of-19.
Ayton had an especially lackluster game from the line. Normally a 72 percent shooter from there, he finished just 4 of 8, easily the most disappointing part of what was otherwise an outstanding performance.
Alkins was also off, finishing just 3 of 6 but we already touched on the fact that his shooting was off on Saturday night and appears to be the part of his game most affected by his time off.
Arizona still won by six despite missing 13 free throws and shooting 63 percent from the line. So what’s the big deal? Well, free throws are at their easiest in front of a home crowd so there’s really no excuse.
The Wildcats are a week away from having to deal with the New Mexico Lobos and their tough home-court advantage and just three weeks away from Pac-12 play where every road game will feature a student section desperate to rush the floor. And Arizona won by just six while shooting nearly 60 percent in the second half.
That’s why the free throws are a big deal. In most situations, you simply can’t miss that many and expect to win.
Smith played just one minute on Saturday night after playing his best game as a Wildcat this past Tuesday in the win over Texas A&M. Ouch.
In an article published yesterday about Alkins’ return to the lineup, I wondered where his minutes would come from and who would be affected. It would appear we have our answer as Smith went from playing 25 minutes against UNLV just one week ago to only one tonight.
It’s not definite that the rotation is set but it almost assuredly will be before Arizona starts Pac-12 play against ASU on Dec. 30.
Until then, it will be very interesting to watch who gets the minutes off the bench.