Ayton unfazed by raucous crowd despite Wildcats’ OT loss to Oregon
No. 14 Arizona was without head coach Sean Miller Saturday after reports revealed that Miller had conversations about potential payments to secure freshman Deandre Ayton’s commitment to the program.
Miller released a statement ahead of the Wildcats’ matchup with Oregon (19-10, 9-7), noting that it was “in the best interest” of the team for Miller to not coach the game.
“I continue to fully support the university’s efforts to fully investigate this matter and I am confident that I will be vindicated,” Miller said in the statement. “For now, my thoughts are with our team.”
Ayton, however, was eligible. And despite the hostile crowd in Eugene, Ore., he managed to record his 19th double-double of the season in the Wildcats’ 98-93 overtime loss to the Ducks.
Fans were relentless from the beginning, bringing out a fake check for $100,000 — the reported amount that Miller had discussed paying Ayton.
It didn’t end there. Another fan had a giant 100 Grand candy bar on hand.
Ayton was the subject of signs, raucous yelling and boos throughout the course of the night. But, the potential No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft had his way with the Oregon defenders.
Scoring 28 points and adding 18 rebounds for Arizona (22-7, 12-4), Ayton displayed dominance all over the court.
Late in the first half with Arizona leading Oregon 36-30, the Ducks’ defense attempted to trap the Wildcats deep under their own basket.
Fellow freshman Emmanuel Akot found Ayton streaking toward center court behind the Oregon press. With the ball in hand, Ayton finished with an explosive dunk that sent the Wildcats’ bench and ESPN commentator Bill Walton into a frenzy.
Deandre Ayton is a man possessed pic.twitter.com/b065m8YmS9
— Herbo (@HerbMcDerb) February 25, 2018
The Wildcats managed to edge Oregon to hold onto a 43-37 lead at the half.
Oregon took advantage of Arizona’s 17 total turnovers in the game, taking the lead in the second half.
Despite shooting 57.6 percent from the field compared to Oregon’s 43.2 percent, the Wildcats played catch-up throughout most of the second half.
Trailing by three points with 22 seconds left, sophomore guard Dylan Smith hit a game-tying 3-pointer for Arizona to force overtime.
Led by junior guard Elijah Brown’s career-high 30 points, Oregon outscored Arizona 15-10 in overtime to secure the upset victory.
Including Brown, all five of Oregon’s starters scored 11 points or more, with senior forward MiKyle McIntosh accounting for 20 points and 4 steals on the night.
Along with Ayton, sophomore guard Rawle Alkins led the Wildcats with 24 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds.
Despite playing Saturday night, Ayton’s eligibility remains in question as the investigation surrounding the Arizona basketball program continues.
The Wildcats will be back in action at home on Thursday, March 1 as they take on Stanford.