What a day.
With the win, senior big man Dusan Ristic won his 111th game as a Wildcat, becoming the winningest Wildcat in program history, surpassing Kaleb Tarczewski and Matt Muehlebach.
Oh yeah and by the way, Sean Miller was back on the sideline and Allonzo Trier was back on the floor, scoring 18 in the win. It’s been a strange and dramatic day in Tucson but at the end of it all, the puzzle that is Arizona basketball appears to be complete once again. As recent as 24 hours ago, that didn’t seem possible.
And now the focus goes back to basketball. With all of the off the court stuff out of the way for the time being, the Wildcats effectively put the past behind them with Thursday’s win over Stanford (our full recap can be found here).
With only one game remaining in the regular season coming on Saturday afternoon, let’s take a quick look at three up and three down from Thursday night’s victory.
Ristic didn’t just break the record for most wins by a player in Arizona history with some ho-hum performance – he did it with style.
Dusan led the team with 21 points and added five rebounds while shooting 10-of-15 in the win. Ristic was lights out in the first half, putting up 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting.
Ristic has now dropped his three best scoring games in his college career all in the last nine games. This senior is playing his best basketball and with his smooth post game and reliable mid-range shooting being paired with the power and ferocity of Deandre Ayton, Arizona likely has the toughest collection of bigs to deal with in the country.
It wasn’t pretty but that’s not Pinder’s game anyway.
Pinder came in for 21 minutes on Thursday night and made quite a difference, swatting three shots and effecting many more.
In March, depth matters. So, having a guy that can come in and give valuable minutes and force the opponent to make adjustments is huge. You can expect every opponent in the NCAA Tournament to focus on going right at Deandre Ayton and try to get him in foul trouble. If you get Ayton off the floor, there’s a lot less to worry about.
Having someone like Pinder be able to come in, play physical defense, protect the rim and take the brunt of the fouls can set Arizona apart when it matters most.
“We’ve been on a quest all season to develop our bench,” Miller said. “And it’s not the statistics a lot of times that will reveal how well they helped us. It will be things like Keanu’s defense. His willingness to come in and do the dirty work around the basket. We had a number of guys do that.”
It’s been a weird week for Arizona basketball. A week ago, the idea of Sean Miller not being on the sideline for the Wildcats seemed like something we wouldn’t see for many years to come. As recent as yesterday, the idea of Miller being back on that sideline seemed just as unlikely.
One defiant press conference later and apparently we’re all just supposed to go back to business as usual.
But it was far from that on Thursday night as Miller received a standing ovation when he walked onto the floor at McKale Center in what he described as a “very emotional night,” and the moment as something he’ll “never, ever forget.”
With Miller back and feeling vindicated – and angry – it could certainly add an edge to a Wildcat team that seemed dead to rights just 24 hours ago. It will be interesting to see how Arizona, now fully intact, will continue to respond after so much drama.
It may have been the adrenaline of having their coach and one of their leaders on the floor back after plenty of doubt but the Wildcats were a bit of a mess against Stanford.
Arizona turned it over 15 times and that kept the Cardinal hanging around for too long.
While we can try to blame Arizona’s turnovers on the adrenaline involved and we can try to blame their 17 turnovers against Oregon last Saturday on missing Miller and Trier and some semblance of structure, one can’t deny that Arizona has a turnover problem.
This was their seventh straight game with double-digit turnovers and are averaging 13.9 turnovers over that time. In the last two games, Arizona has 32 turnovers and have only forced 12. This is an issue they need to get taken care of before next week’s Pac-12 Tournament.
Free throws minus Zo
Arizona effectively put the game away at the charity stripe, making their final eight attempts. Allonzo Trier was impressive from the line as usual, making 9-of-10.
That’s the end of the good news though.
While they ended up shooting 15-of-23 from the line, finishing at 65 percent, they started with 7-of-15 from the free throw line and couldn’t seem to finish Stanford because of it. Without Trier, the team shot only 6-of-13.
We’re nearly at the point where losing one game means your season is over and the slightest mistake can do it. Lackluster free throw shooting – and the aforementioned turnovers – can end Arizona’s season in cruel fashion.
A team shooting 76 percent from the line for the season can be trusted to turn this around next time out. But they can’t afford another one of these.
Stanford’s luck against Arizona
Entering Thursday’s game, Stanford had lost to the Wildcats on 16 consecutive occasions, the longest such streak in the Pac-12.
This morning, the Cardinal had to have felt pretty good about snapping it.
Sure, they had to play in McKale Center but it wasn’t long ago that Arizona suffered their first home loss of the season. Plus, Stanford might have thought it wouldn’t have to worry about Sean Miller or Allonzo Trier. Plus, how will Arizona stop Reid Travis?
Yet, the Cardinal were handed another loss.
Miller returned, Trier was reinstated, Reid Travis totaled a game-high 23 points and 10 rebounds but Arizona didn’t make it easy, keeping him below 50 percent from the floor.
So, loss No. 17 in a row for Stanford against Arizona. Barring a potential meeting in next week’s Pac-12 Tournament, better luck next year.