Arizona guard Allonzo Trier finds redemption in Pac-12 Tournament championship
LAS VEGAS — It seemed almost too perfect as he went to the free throw line with 17 seconds remaining.
Of course, he made both attempts.
Arizona guard Allonzo Trier got his redemption Saturday night, drilling the game-sealing free throws to clinch the program’s sixth Pac-12 Tournament title with an 83-80 win over the Oregon Ducks at the newly-minted T-Mobile Arena.
Trier finished with a team-high 23 points and eight rebounds in 37 minutes, garnering the honor of Pac-12 Tournament Most Outstanding Player and sending the Wildcats to the NCAA Tournament as the No. 2 seeded team in the West Region.
“You just never know if you clinch the game,” said Trier of the free throws. “It’s kind of like you just want the clock to hit zero, and once you get that then it’s like, ‘oomph,’ and just this tremendous sigh of relief.”
Just months ago, Trier’s name lingered over the program for a whole different reason.
While coach Sean Miller was dealing with the departure of Terrance Ferguson and career-ending injury to Ray Smith, it was Trier’s name that came up most often.
Trier missed the first 19 games of the season due to a suspension for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug, which he appealed. In the time before the reason for Trier’s absence was disclosed, he was pestered by speculation about the suspension.
“It was every single day,” Trier said. “A lot of people don’t know what it’s like. Everybody was so worried about what the issue was of why I’m not playing, but nobody actually takes a look at what I’m actually going through, what it actually feels like to be me. How I’m hounded every single day.
“You become so magnified in the media and really you become like — you’re already not a normal person because you’re a high-profile college basketball player — but at that point, I was kind of like living in a glass house and everyone was looking in at me.”
The Wildcats went 17-2 without Trier, battling additional injuries to key players, such as junior guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright, to stay afloat.
“The 19-game stretch, the span of time went on forever,” Miller said. “It was a very unique situation. I think a big reason our team was successful is he stayed very engaged during the absence of being able to play. He practiced hard every day as if he was getting ready for the next game. And he stayed the course. He hung in there, and so did his family.”
Even as the team produced results on the floor, they dealt with the constant outside pressure of not knowing when Trier would return.
“We just tried not to focus on it,” freshman forward Lauri Markkanen said. “He wasn’t playing, and that’s it. This was the team we had, and we were able to get wins.”
Trier said his time away from the game he loved was emotional, relying often on discussions with Miller to remain focused and composed. They didn’t always work.
“You just try to stay strong, and sometimes when you’re alone or by yourself, you’ll break down and you cry,” Trier said. “It’s a tough feeling.”
In the time since Trier returned at UCLA on Jan. 21, Arizona has lost twice — once at Oregon in a blowout, and again at home on Senior Day against UCLA.
The Wildcats eliminated the Bruins Friday to get to the title game, then knocked off the Ducks Saturday in the championship.
For Trier, it was poetic justice.
“It’s special, man,” Jackson-Cartwright said. “Just knowing all the adversity we had been hit with, and how hard we worked every day. It’s just a sweet feeling, and I’m glad to be able to do this with my brothers.”
Now at full strength, Miller has a team that can go deep in March. They have depth, can defend and rebound, and have shown inside-out ability offensively.
If the Wildcats can advance out of the region, the Final Four is in Glendale at University of Phoenix Stadium, just a two-hour bus ride from Tucson.
And now Miller has his red-hot star.
“It’s like a dream come true, how we envisioned it going for him,” Miller said. “I couldn’t think of a more appropriate ending than watching him walk away with the MVP. Again, I don’t want to make this the finish line. This, hopefully, is a sign of things to come for us.”
There aren’t many times in life where we are given a magic number to redemption. Allonzo Trier’s is six — the number of victories needed to win the NCAA Tournament.
And it would come 20 years after the Wildcats last won an NCAA championship behind the play and leadership of guard Miles Simon — who had missed the first 11 games of the season because of an academic suspension.
Can history repeat for Trier?
“It’s something that made me mature a whole lot, and it’s something you can’t prepare for,” Trier said. “I guess it happened for a reason.”