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Arizona basketball: Three things we learned at Oregon State

Do the Wildcats have a basketball version of thunder and lightning now?

NCAA Basketball: Arizona at Oregon State Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

The last time the Arizona Wildcats visited Corvallis to take on the Oregon State Beavers, the Beavs pulled off the upset. For the first half Thursday night it appeared as though it could happen again.

No. 5 Arizona (20-2 and 9-0 in Pac-12 play) playing on the road at a 4-19 team who was 0-9 in the conference, the Thursday night game before a big tilt with the Oregon Ducks; it smelled a little like a trap game.

And when the Beavers took a two point lead into halftime, it seemed even more feasible. But after intermission, the Cats kicked things into another gear and pulled out a relatively easy win.

Here are some things we saw.


A TALE OF TWO HALVES

Sometimes when playing on the road, the home team comes out and gives you the proverbial “punch in the mouth”, starting hot and jumping out to a lead, getting the crowd — students especially — fired up. But that wasn’t the case Thursday night. Arizona jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead and later led 14-6.

But the Beavers weathered the storm early and started to make shots, to the tune of 50% shooting in the first half. Conversely, Arizona shot a meager 35%, its starters scoring 14 points combined on 4-of-18 shooting. Fortunately the bench — Allonzo Trier and Parker Jackson-Cartwright — kicked in 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting or things could’ve gotten out of hand.

Clearly the Cats took Sean Miller’s halftime exhortations to heart, coming out of the gate quickly. After trading baskets, the game stood at 34-34 with a little over 17 minutes left. UA then went on a 21-2 run and were able to cruise to victory, as the lead never dwindled below 15 from that point on. Arizona shot 54% and held Oregon State to 35% in the second half. Two really good halves is always better, but this was a really good second half adjustment on the road.


ALLONZO TRIER IS THE KEY TO THIS TEAM’S FINAL FOUR DREAMS

It was always Allonzo. This isn’t exactly an earth-shattering revelation. But since his return, Allonzo Trier has provided such a boost on the floor. In his four games since returning, he’s had as many as eight rebounds, seven assists, and now 18 points in a game, doing what was needed at the time.

Thursday night he needed to be the alpha scorer and he was, hitting shots and getting to the foul line. It’s a small sample size, but Trier is averaging 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists. And this is him still getting into game shape and finding his equilibrium in the rotation.

His scoring was even more important Thursday night when only one starter, Dusan Ristic, was in double figures with 10 points. Lauri Markkanen and Kadeem Allen combined for 11 points on 2-of-11 shooting in 53 minutes between them. Those nights will happen, especially on the road. So to have an ace in the hole like Trier, for now coming off the bench, is huge.

All year, Wildcat fans have hoped Trier would return. Seeing the Jerry West Award finalists announced recently, obviously devoid of Trier’s name due to his long absence, stung for me because I think he certainly would’ve been on the very short list at season’s end for the award, right there with Luke Kennard and Malik Monk or anyone else. I think Trier would’ve likely been up over 20 points a game. Alas, perhaps Trier can now lead Arizona to Glendale instead.


RAWLE ALKINS AND KOBI SIMMONS ARE THUNDER AND LIGHTNING

This is a term usually reserved for football, especially for a pair of running backs, but it applies here too. Alkins, 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, is the thunder. When he works in the post he can just muscle guys. He may not be Stanley Johnson-level physical (not many are in college), but he’s a man out on the floor. Simmons, 6-foot-5 and 180 pounds, is the lightning. He’s lithe but explosive. We saw that on his epic alley oop dunk from PJC. It reminded me a little of this Grant Hill classic only with a little more oomph.

But beyond the flash, these guys are crucial contributors this year. Obviously with Trier’s absence, everyone else has had to pick up the slack. These two five-star recruits have lived up to the billing. Alkins has averaged 12 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists per game; Simmons with 12 points, 2 rebounds, and 3 assists.

While neither is an elite shooter at this point, both are shooting better than 34% from 3 (29 made 3’s for Alkins, 25 for Simmons), which helps floor spacing. Lauri Markkanen has gotten well deserved national run, but his two freshman running mates deserve an awful lot of credit too.


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