Arizona’s Miller, Trier return as the Wildcats defeat Stanford
After enduring a week full of uncertainty, everything seemed to go right for the Arizona Wildcats leading up to their matchup with Stanford on Thursday night.
With head coach Sean Miller back on the sideline and junior guard Allonzo Trier back in the lineup, the Wildcats captured at least a share of the Pac-12 regular season championship in a 75-67 win over the Cardinal.
“Tonight was obviously a very emotional night, but it’s one that was about our team and what we accomplished,” Miller said after the game. “Winning a Pac-12 regular season championship is a goal of ours, often times it’s not realized, it’s not as easy as anyone thinks.
“For us to clinch at least a tie is very gratifying.”
Miller was at the helm of Arizona for the first time since he decided it was in the team’s “best interests” that he not coach them in their overtime loss to Oregon last Saturday. The decision was due to a Feb. 23 report by ESPN’s Mark Schlabach that alleged Miller had been heard on FBI wiretaps discussing a payment for $100,000 to secure the commitment of now-freshman Deandre Ayton.
After weeks of speculation and conflicting statements about the authenticity of Schlabach’s report, Miller addressed the allegations for the first time in a press conference Thursday afternoon.
“I’m outraged by the media statements that have been made, and the acceptance that these statements were true,” Miller said.
When Miller entered McKale Center on Thursday, he was met by an eruption of cheers from fans.
“I didn’t know what to think about it other than it was very, very emotional,” Miller said of the moment. “Tucson and our fans, they have always been the very best to my family and myself and have always supported our basketball program like no other.
“To see them do that is very emotional and something I will never forget.”
Allonzo Trier made his return to the lineup after missing two games due to a failed drug test that showed traces of the same performance enhancer that caused him to miss 19 games in the 2016-17 season.
The NCAA informed Trier and Arizona on Thursday that he had won his appeal and was eligible to return to the court.
He made his presence known early with a deep 3-pointer to give the Wildcats a 5-0 lead to start the game.
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Trier went on to score 9 points for the Wildcats in the first half while shooting 60 percent from the field. Arizona maintained a 37-28 lead at the half.
“We had our fingers crossed that it would go that way,” Miller said of Trier’s NCAA appeal. “I think we are all elated for him that it did.”
While Arizona had the momentum given the recent triumphs for the program, Stanford never went away.
Late in the second half the Cardinal continued to chip away at Arizona’s lead, eventually shrinking it to just five points with one minute to play.
On the Wildcats next possession Trier made his way into the lane, attempting to rise up for what would have been an explosive dunk but was fouled.
Free throws by Arizona down the stretch extended the lead and eventually became too much for the Cardinal.
Along with Trier’s 18 points and 4 assists, the Wildcats benefited from a strong performance by center Dusan Ristic, who came just two points shy of his career-high with 21 points and 5 rebounds.
Ristic, a senior, became the all-time winningest player in Arizona basketball history, a feat that he said means a lot.
“I am privileged to accomplish something like that at this program,” Ristic said after the game. “It’s something that is going to stay forever with my life. I am just happy about it.”
Freshman star Deandre Ayton also found a rhythm against Stanford, capturing his 20th double-double of the season with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
The share of the Pac-12 regular season title is the fourth for Arizona in the last five seasons.
Now, they look to capture sole possession of the regular season championship as they take on Cal on Saturday. Despite what has transpired in the past week, Miller remains focused on the future of the program as they come to the end of the season.
“I have made my statement and everything I said in that statement I will stand by,” Miller said. “Right now, for me, it’s about focusing on the now and focusing on coaching our team and running this basketball program.”