Knowing Allonzo Trier’s pedigree, it wasn’t a shock. His business-like approach to basketball made the return from a hand injury smooth, hardly noticeable.
Since the freshman ripped off the wrapping on his shooting hand at halftime of the Arizona Wildcats’ win over UCLA two games back, he’s officially been back in a groove.
His 20 points during the Wildcats’ 99-61 route of Arizona State on Wednesday gave his team a season sweep of the Sun Devils, and no matter all the great steps forward for Sean Miller’s crew — the defense, the imposing of will or the efficiency — Trier stood out most.
He is, after all, what could make just another down year for an elite college basketball program turn into a deep NCAA run.
Bobby Hurley on Arizona: 'There are people out there who don't think they're a Final Four team. Well, they need to wake up.'
— Greg Hansen (@ghansen711) February 18, 2016
The result Wednesday night wasn’t surprising.
How it unfolded, against a team that has fought well despite its limitations, was.
Arizona doubled down on the Sun Devils’ shooting — they ranked in the 200s in both shooting percentage (42.5 percent) and three-point percentage (33.9 percent). The Wildcats hawked the Sun Devils at the three-point line; let them make their way into the heart of a defense more reminiscent of Miller’s last two teams, they said.
Defensively, Arizona’s interior length held ASU’s drivers at bay. Leading-scorer Tra Holder struggled most, scoring 10 points on 3-of-11 shooting.
Meanwhile, Arizona State’s combo forwards, 6-foot-6 Savon Goodman and 6-foot-7 Obinna Oleka, at times faced a Wildcat frontline of two seven-footers in Kaleb Tarczewski and Dusan Ristic. Offensively, it was bad news for the Sun Devils as the two UA centers combined for 22 points, 19 rebounds and six blocks.
And while Arizona won in paint scoring 52-14, on fastbreaks 13-0, on second-chance points 16-6 and points off turnovers 12-5, it was Trier’s performance that turned a potentially wild rivalry game into a rout, Arizona’s biggest beatdown of its rival since 1988.
After ASU rallied from an ugly start to take a brief 20-19 lead, Arizona closed the final 7:30 of the first half with a 19-4 run. Trier accounted for seven points and an assist for nine of the final 10 points heading into the half.
Any thoughts of an ASU upset were gone in a hurry.
For the Sun Devils, Bobby Hurley can only do so much.
He doesn’t have the athletes, the size or the shooters. It’ll be hard to imagine Arizona State faring well when it hasn’t beat any of its final four Pac-12 opponents — and all boast either a top-2 scorer 6’8 or taller or have an NBA lottery pick in the frontcourt.
Meanwhile, Miller will use these next two weekends as a teaching tool. He’d probably like to build on a defensive effort that, while well-executed, needs to appear against more dynamic Pac-12 offenses. The Wildcats will likely benefit from their point guard situation, where Parker Jackson-Cartwright’s seven-assist, no-turnover performance — all while helping lock up Holder — has brought stability to the lineup.
But so long as Trier remains healthy, the Wildcats’ margin for error against lesser teams is not so thin anymore.
Trier’s creativity to get into the lane has put him at the foul stripe at the rate of a big man (eight times per 40 minutes), while his finishing ability at the hoop (77 percent) is similarly representative of a frontcourt player. His knack for scoring within the flow of Miller’s best offensive team while at Arizona is a cherry on top of what the Wildcats hope is a complete product heading into Pac-12 play.
Trier’s comfort being so relied upon can push Arizona. Despite all the roster fluctuations, the Wildcats’ ability to make a deep March run appears bright as it has this season, especially in a year when nobody has held steady anywhere in the rankings.
Hurley said as much.
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