Questions about controversy follow Arizona Wildcats after Pac-12 tourney victory
LAS VEGAS — Despite recent drama surrounding the Arizona Wildcats, or maybe because of it, the usual sea of red descended upon the Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament Thursday as the No. 1 seed opened its run.
In recent weeks, junior guard Allonzo Trier was suspended due to a failed drug test which located the same drug he was suspended for last season. He was forced to sit out two games before being reinstated.
ESPN reported that coach Sean Miller could be heard discussing payment to a potential recruit on wiretaps from an FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball.
After the Wildcats’ 83-67 victory over Colorado, it seemed that was all anyone wanted to discuss.
From being asked whether or not he plans to pursue legal action against ESPN to questions about the merits of paying college athletes, Miller bristled and deflected, as one would expect after such an important win.
Instead, he stuck to the positive impact on his team coming together to accomplish its goal in March.
“We have great kids on our team,” Miller said. “We have a lot of winners, talented players, who have always from Day One played for the win. Everybody on our team and in our locker room realizes what March Madness is, so right now our focus is strictly on competing for a Pac-12 Tournament championship.”
Wildcat fans continued to show up in droves to support their squad like they always have, earning Las Vegas the nickname “McKale North.”
Colorado coach Tad Boyle said the proximity shouldn’t give Arizona any more of an advantage when it comes to crowd size, but did mention how well Wildcats fans travel, citing their attendance standing at the top of the conference.
“Their fans travel well, they’re very passionate,” Boyle said. “But Vegas is an easy place to get to. It’s a place that any fan can get to, really. They can maybe drive, so it’s a little bit more of an advantage. … If they have an advantage, there’s nothing we can do about it. We can’t move campuses.”
Arizona led 35-33 at the end of the first half in a back-and-forth affair which featured four ties and five lead changes.
In the second half, however, it was all Wildcats.
Aided by the heavy Arizona presence, the Wildcats came out firing in the second half, outscoring the overmatched Buffaloes 48-34, which included a 14-1 run that took just under three minutes.
Without freshman forward Deandre Ayton dominating (10 points and six rebounds), senior forward Dusan Ristic picked up the slack in the paint. Ristic finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds, finishing only behind Trier (22) in the scoring department.
“He understands this is the last time he’s going to go down this road,” Trier said. “He’s playing his best basketball, being a senior, playing with a lot of confidence. When he’s playing with confidence, it gives us confidence and belief in our basketball team.”
The Wildcats will next play in the semifinals Friday against UCLA.