It’s never a good sign when your leading scorer has a goose egg in the scoring column at halftime in an NCAA Tournament game.
But that was life for the Arizona Wildcats on Saturday as they battled the Saint Mary’s Gaels.
Allonzo Trier missed all four of his shot attempts in the first 20 minutes, plus had two turnovers.
“I think Allonzo, he wants to play well so bad that today, and this really isn't his makeup, but today he didn't have the confidence that he usually has,” head coach Sean Miller said.
How could Miller tell? Trier’s night started with a mental mistake. A rather inexcusable one.
As Arizona looked to push the ball in transition, Trier was running down the left side of the court with both feet out of bounds and eventually caught a pass that consequently was a turnover.
“It's that old line, ‘the line doesn't move, it's there,’” Miller said. “Come on now.
“I think it kind of set the tone where it wasn't anything other than I think he's been thinking about this moment for a long time and wants it very badly. And once in a while it can work against you. And it did for a period of time.”
But that period of time ended at about, oh, the 16:39 mark in the second half. That was when Trier recorded his first points of the night, sinking a mid-range jumper after shaking a defender.
That bucket gave the Wildcats a 38-37 lead after they trailed by as many as 10 points in the first half.
“Like a lot of things on our team, he put that behind him at halftime,” Miller said of Trier’s first-half struggles.
Trier would score 14 second-half points, and it seemed nearly all of them were instrumental in punching Arizona’s ticket to the Sweet 16.
After the Gaels re-took a 46-44 lead with 11 minutes to play, Trier responded with a 3 to put UA back on top. He then tacked on four more unanswered points to put UA up 51-46.
Soon after, he nailed a fadeaway jumper to stretch the Wildcats’ lead to 55-48 with 6:57 to play.
After a 3 got Saint Mary’s within five with 1:54 to play, Trier sank three free throws to extend UA’s lead to eight, effectively putting the game out of reach.
“I almost feel like the difference in the game was his offensive outburst maybe midway through the second half,” Miller said. “He regained his confidence. And when he's confident offensively our team is a lot better.”
The numbers back it up.
Arizona shot 45 percent in the first half as it trailed by one at halftime, but, with Trier’s confidence back, it shot 59 percent in the second half, outscoring Saint Mary’s 40-30 in the final 20 minutes.
"No game is going to be easy, it's not going to be exactly how you want it,” Trier said. “If we stick to doing the things that we're supposed to do and let that carry over, we believe that more times than not we'll come out on top."
That mentality explains why Trier remained aggressive even after his nightmarish first half — and why Arizona won.
“People assume 'oh he's forcing (things), he's off his game,' but that happens to anybody," Trier said. "I know that if my number is called in the second half I have to be able to answer the bell.”
He continued, “maybe they got the better of us earlier on, but the way the game works, it’s a long game and you just have to stick with it and that’s what we did and it carried over to the second half and it allowed us to be at our best and win the game.”
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