[ {"id":"a5b08bfd-bc13-5852-8b6f-28a3f03526b7","type":"article","starttime":"1485152100","starttime_iso8601":"2017-01-22T23:15:00-07:00","lastupdated":"1485178348","priority":45,"sections":[{"basketball":"sports/arizonawildcats/basketball"}],"application":"editorial","title":"Allonzo Trier's return gives Arizona Wildcats plenty of options","url":"http://tucson.com/sports/arizonawildcats/basketball/article_a5b08bfd-bc13-5852-8b6f-28a3f03526b7.html","permalink":"http://tucson.com/sports/arizonawildcats/basketball/allonzo-trier-s-return-gives-arizona-wildcats-plenty-of-options/article_a5b08bfd-bc13-5852-8b6f-28a3f03526b7.html","canonical":"http://tucson.com/sports/arizonawildcats/basketball/allonzo-trier-s-return-gives-arizona-wildcats-plenty-of-options/article_a5b08bfd-bc13-5852-8b6f-28a3f03526b7.html","relatedAssetCounts":{"article":0,"audio":0,"image":3,"link":0,"vmix":0,"youtube":0,"gallery":0},"byline":"By Bruce Pascoe\nArizona Daily Star","prologue":"UA coach Sean Miller doesn't think team chemistry will be hurt with sophomore back.","supportsComments":true,"commentCount":0,"keywords":[],"internalKeywords":["#top5sports","#editorspick","#latest"],"customProperties":{"arm_id":"72852","label":"basketball"},"presentation":"","images":[{"id":"31ebc304-865b-551d-a985-a5900214c0ef","description":"Arizona guard Allonzo Trier, center, shoots as UCLA guard Lonzo Ball, left, and center Thomas Welsh defend during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, in Los Angeles. 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LOS ANGELES \u2014 The return of Allonzo Trier has given coach Sean Miller and the Arizona Wildcats a whole basket of new toys.

The reinstated sophomore guard, who served a 19-game NCAA suspension for a positive PED test before helping No. 14 UA upset No. 3 UCLA 96-85 on Saturday, isn\u2019t just the Wildcats\u2019 top returning scorer from last season.

\u2022 He\u2019s an experienced go-to scorer and foul magnet who might come in handy in the final seconds of a one-possession finish, the kind Arizona hasn\u2019t had since its season opening win against Michigan State.

\u2022 He\u2019s a big wing who can defend a taller guard, taking some defensive pressure off the do-everything Kadeem Allen and the Wildcats\u2019 other perimeter players.

\u2022 His improved passing ability means he can be even more efficient with his drives, dishing back out to the perimeter as he did for a first-half 3-pointer by Lauri Markkanen at UCLA. Trier finished with four assists to one turnover on Saturday.

\u201cHe opens up the floor a lot more,\u201d freshman guard Kobi Simmons said. Opposing players \u201cworry about him. He became a great passer as he came back another year, and it\u2019s great for our team.\u201d

\u2022 His presence means Miller has the flexibility to throw out four perimeter players if an opponent goes small, and regularly use three, when he often had to deploy 7-footer Lauri Markkanen at small forward earlier this season because of the UA\u2019s limited perimeter depth.

\u201cWhen we went small today, we had another body,\u201d Miller said after the UCLA game. \u201cHaving that extra body was big for us.

\u2022 Having Trier around also means the Wildcats should never get tired. Miller has complained often that the fatigue of his understaffed roster has been at least partially responsible for their second-half defensive meltdowns, especially against Texas A&M, when the Wildcats let a 22-point second-half lead slip all the way to just two before hanging on for a 67-63 win.

Arizona also allowed its previous three opponents before UCLA to shoot 50 percent or better in the second half. But when the Bruins trimmed UA\u2019s lead from 14 to four in the second half Saturday, a Trier-bolstered defense helped build the Wildcats\u2019 lead back up to double digits, resulting in the kind of upset that opened eyes around the country.

\u201cWe\u2019ve had a tendency this year to not be as good in the second half as we\u2019ve been,\u201d Miller said after Saturday\u2019s game. \u201cBut today\u2019s a reminder that to be good late in the game and the second half, you need depth, and part of what we\u2019ve run into is we\u2019ve given great effort and we run out of gas.

\u201cToday we didn\u2019t do that. Kadeem is great example. He played only 30 minutes and at the end of the game he was a lot fresher.\u201d

\u2022 Trier also gives Miller a legitimate hook with which to yank underperforming players. Because of the Wildcats\u2019 three straight lapses into lethargy before the UCLA game, Miller said after the UA hung on at USC on Thursday that he would start benching players who don\u2019t give a consistently strong effort.

But that kind of saber-rattling initially appeared limited. Until Friday, when the UA said the NCAA notified them that Trier had tested negative, Miller had just three extra players to sub in.

Now Miller has four, and a full complement of players at all positions, ensuring nobody is safe from a sudden benching.

\u201cDuring the long course of a season, you have injuries, you have foul trouble, you have players who maybe aren\u2019t playing well,\u201d Miller said. \u201cThe biggest thing from a coaching perspective is if you don\u2019t play with effort, you\u2019re not going to play. That right there is worth a lot.\u201d

Now \u201cthat won\u2019t be compromised because the answer is easy. You\u2019ll just get subbed out. So you have a chance to have even greater effort level.\u201d

Yet, with all these benefits Trier brings the Wildcats, there is one potential downside: His addition could disrupt the chemistry of a team that went 17-2 without him, even if he plays unselfishly himself.

Will anyone (or his parents/handlers) sulk after his minutes get cut to make room for Trier? Rawle Alkins played just 17 on Saturday, a full 14 minutes below his playing average in Pac-12 games entering the UCLA game. Parker Jackson-Cartwright lost five minutes off his league average, while Keanu Pinder lost six, playing only four total minutes against the Bruins.

While Alkins is perhaps the most likely to be squeezed by Trier\u2019s return because they have similar skillsets, Pinder also could take a big hit because the UA has even more flexibility to go big or small with other players in the frontcourt.

But Miller appeared unconcerned, saying, \u201cWe have unselfish group of guys for sure,\u201d even as he noted that everyone\u2019s role will be changing to some extent.

\u201cWe\u2019re gonna have to sacrifice,\u201d Miller said. \u201cWe\u2019ve had great team chemistry and it\u2019s our job to continue to have that great team chemistry. Really, everyone will play a little bit less, but hopefully we can accomplish more as a group.\u201d

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BERKELEY, Calif. \u2014 Asha Thomas scored 10 of her 24 points in the third quarter to help California pull away from Arizona 71-60 on Sunday.

Thomas was 6 of 11 from the floor and has scored in double figures in three straight games. Kristine Anigwe added 14 points and a game-high eight rebounds for California (15-5, 3-5 Pac-12), which snapped a two-game skid. Mikayla Cowling and Mi\u2019Cole Cayton had 10 points apiece for the Golden Bears.

The Wildcats had a one-point halftime lead before Thomas opened the second half with a 3-pointer, sparking Cal to a 19-10 third-quarter surge and a 46-38 lead.

Thomas made two 3s, and Cayton added five points during the stretch. Arizona cut the deficit to eight points four times in the fourth quarter, but didn\u2019t get closer.

Malena Washington scored 17 points to lead Arizona (11-8, 2-6). LaBrittney Jones added 15 points and JaLea Bennett chipped in 11.

The Wildcats beat Cal 74-64 on Dec. 29 at McKale Center, but have dropped five of seven games since then.

UA next plays at USC at 8 p.m. Friday in a game that will air on 1400-AM.

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Star reporter Zack Rosenblatt is counting down the UA\u2019s recruits in the days leading up to Feb. 1, national signing day.

Name: Drew Dixon

Position: Athlete (wide receiver/defensive back)

Height: 6-4

Weight: 195 pounds

Hometown (high school): Tucson (Sabino)

Rating: Three stars, No. 69 athlete, No. 12 in the West, No. 2 in Arizona

Other offers: Hawaii, New Mexico, San Jose State, Northern Arizona

2016 stats: 1,795 all purpose yards, 11 passing touchdowns, 16 rushing touchdowns, 6 receiving touchdowns, 2 punt return touchdowns

Who he is: One of the best all-purpose stars Tucson has ever had. Dixon spent time at quarterback, running back, receiver, tight end, defensive back and returning both kickoffs and punts.

How he fits: The versatile Tucsonan is expected to play receiver at UA, and he brings some much-needed size into the receiving corps. The Wildcats lost Trey Griffey from last year\u2019s team and only return one scholarship receiver taller than 6-feet. That would be the 6-5 Shawn Poindexter, with six career catches to his name.

He said it: \u201cFrom the beginning when I went to the U of A, I knew that\u2019s where I wanted to be at, it\u2019s where I wanted to go. As a kid going to the games with my close friend and his dad saying that could be you on the field one day. It was a dream and now, one day pretty soon from here, I will be that guy on the field.\u201d \u2014 Dixon

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LOS ANGELES \u2013 For weeks even before he took his team into Pauley Pavilion for one of the biggest upsets of his UA career, Sean Miller has said UCLA has a chance to win the national championship.

He said that again while closing up his postgame interview Saturday, too.

\u201cUCLA is a great team,\u201d Miller said. \u201cI think they have a chance to win the whole thing. I really do. They\u2019re great on offense, for sure.\u201d

Um, well \u2026 Arizona just beat the Bruins 85-96 on their home floor.

So that must mean the Wildcats might have a chance to win it all, too, right?

Miller grinned when presented with that logic.

\u201cWe\u2019ll see,\u201d Miller said.

If nothing else, though, the Wildcats are bound not only to vault well into the Top 10 of the major polls on Monday but also into the basketball consciousness. Arizona has played under the national radar really all season, with few national media of any sort talking much about them except for the odd Allonzo Trier reference.

Now, attention is probably unavoidable. Arizona is 18-2, just beat the third-ranked team \u2013 which won at Kentucky \u2013 on its home floor.

That\u2019s the kind of success that can gain attention in every time zone.

\u201cLike I told our guys, when you come to a place like UCLA or L.A., it\u2019s not really what you say or think, it\u2019s what you do,\u201d Miller said. \u201cYou earn respect through performance and today I\u2019m sure we earned the respect of a lot of people because of how we played against a great team.\u201d

Kobi Simmons said UA is trying to earn respect every game.

\u201cWe knew we had to gain respect and every game we\u2019ve kept grinding and grinding, and we came up with another road sweep,\u201d he said.

About that: UA\u2019s sweep in Los Angeles was only its second of the Miller era in seven tries (The Wildcats did not play in L.A. in 2014-15 because of the unbalanced Pac-12 schedule), and first since 2013-14.

Moreover, the Wildcats\u2019 four-game road sweep of California in league play is its first such sweep since 2002-03, when the Jason Gardner-Luke Walton Wildcats were ranked No. 1 for most of the season.

One of the few things about Trier that Miller did say before Trier\u2019s PED-related suspension was lifted Friday was that Trier has practiced with the Wildcats all season.

\u201cThe one thing we\u2019ve always done is treated him as if he could play the next game,\u201d Miller said. \u201cSo (picking up) our offense, and the repetitions, he\u2019s been getting those. But when you don\u2019t play 19 games, it\u2019s not easy to get there.\u201d

Not only that but, according to a UA spokesman, the Wildcats practiced Friday still not knowing that Trier would be cleared to play Saturday.

Yet Lauri Markkanen, for one, found Trier\u2019s presence a smooth transition.

\u201cI think it was easier than I thought,\u201d Markkanen said. \u201cHe hasn\u2019t played a game since what, last March or something? It\u2019s a little bit tough but I think moving forward every game is easier. It was a little bit different than practice.\u201d

One thing about Trier that Miller appeared most excited about, on top of his obvious statistical contributions: His presence gave the Wildcats an additional quality talent to ease the pressure on his other players, keeping them fresher as the game wore on.

This especially applied to guard Kadeem Allen, because he needs all the energy he can get as the team\u2019s top perimeter defender.

Miller indicated Trier\u2019s presence for that reason helped UA fend off the Bruins after UCLA trimmed UA\u2019s lead from 14 points to four in the second half.

\u201cWe\u2019ve had a tendency this year to not be as good in the second half as we\u2019ve been,\u201d Miller said. \u201cBut today\u2019s a reminder that to be good late in the game and the second half, you need depth, and part of what we\u2019ve run into is we\u2019ve given great effort and we run out of gas.

\u201cToday we didn\u2019t do that. Kadeem is great example. He played only 30 minutes and at the end of the game he was a lot fresher. Especially in the Pac-12 (that\u2019s important) because (in the second game of the weekend) you\u2019re coming off the heels of another game, too.\u201d

It was only two days earlier at USC that Miller fretted repeatedly about his team\u2019s lethargic late-game efforts, even suggesting that he might bench underperforming players to send a message \u2013 when in fact he had only three bench players at the time.

Now he has four, including Trier. That gives Miller a legitimate hook to threaten players with.

\u201cDuring the long course of a season, you have injuries, you have foul trouble, you have players who maybe aren\u2019t playing well,\u201d Miller said. \u201cThe biggest thing from a coaching perspective is if you don't play with effort, you\u2019re not going to play. That right there is worth a lot.\"

Now \"that won\u2019t be compromised because the answer is easy. You\u2019ll just get subbed out. So you have a chance to have even greater effort level.\u201d

The downside of having nine players all of a sudden is that chemistry could suffer if a player gets too upset over having minutes and/or shots cut. Miller said he isn\u2019t concerned, though, because \u201cwe have an unselfish group of guys for sure,\u201d even as he said everyone\u2019s role will get tweaked a little.

\u201cWe\u2019re gonna have to sacrifice,\u201d he said. \u201cWe\u2019ve had great team chemistry and it\u2019s our job to continue to have that great team chemistry. Really, everyone will play a little bit less but hopefully we can accomplish more as a group.\u201d

Here\u2019s how Miller carved 27 minutes on to Trier\u2019s plate Thursday:

Rawle Alkins played just 17, which is 14 fewer than his average in previous Pac-12 games.

Parker Jackson-Cartwright played 18, down from 23.

Keanu Pinder played four, down from 10.

Dusan Ristic played 22, down from 26.

However, Kobi Simmons was up to 33, three over his Pac-12 average, and Markkanan was up three to 32.

Allen\u2019s 30 minutes was actually only a minute less than he\u2019s averaged in conference play, as was Chance Comanche\u2019s 17 minutes.

Our full coverage is attached to this post, as our the box score and updated stats.

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LOS ANGELES \u2013 Allonzo Trier\u2019s return didn\u2019t just help Arizona pull off one of the most riveting victories in the Wildcats\u2019 history under coach Sean Miller on Saturday.

It also may have blown the roof off their season.

After all, if the No. 14 Wildcats can beat the third-ranked Bruins 96-85 on their home floor, before a Trier-heckling capacity crowd on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Day, what could possibly be the limit?

A Pac-12 Championship? A No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed? The Final Four? A national championship?

The word \u201cno\u201d isn\u2019t a certain answer to any of those things.

Not now. Not after Arizona flashed equal doses of rebounding, defense and its own offensive firepower in slowing down UCLA\u2019s vaunted offense enough to shock the Bruins before a televised CBS audience. Not with Trier adding a critical piece of go-to scoring, defense, passing and, maybe most of all, quality depth.

With Trier scoring 12 points in his first game following a 19-game suspension due to a positive test for a performance-enhancing drug, Arizona improved to 18-2 overall and 7-0 in the Pac-12, with the likely possibility of jumping well into the Top 10 of The Associated Press poll on Monday.

\u201cWe knew how high our ceiling was,\u201d said UA freshman guard Kobi Simmons, who led UA in scoring with 20 points. \u201cIt was just making a statement to everybody.

\u201cWe\u2019ve always felt like that. We\u2019ve always felt anything\u2019s possible. We can do anything.\u201d

The Wildcats did a little bit of everything in 40 wildly entertaining minutes at Pauley, a game easily worthy of the many great UA-UCLA showdowns in the Lute Olson era.

UA had six players finish in double-figure scoring, with the ever-efficient Lauri Markkanen collecting 18 points on 6-for-10 shooting, Trier adding his 12 and Dusan Ristic 11 \u2014 plus 10 points from reserve center Chance Comanche in his return home to Los Angeles, and another 10 from Rawle Alkins over just 17 minutes.

While the Bruins were the nation\u2019s offensive efficiency leader entering the game, it was the Wildcats who put up the crazy offensive numbers this time: UA shot 50 percent from the field, made 9 of 20 3-pointers and sank 19 of 21 free throws, having reached the line seven more times than the Bruins did.

While UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball grumbled quietly about how the Bruins need defense to achieve their goals, UCLA coach Steve Alford was more blunt.

\u201cOur defensive efficiency tonight was awful,\u201d Alford said. \u201cWe gave up 48 points in both halves so they were very efficient and hard to guard today.\u201d

Initially, it didn\u2019t look that way. The Wildcats\u2019 defense was unable to set much of a tone or tempo early in the game, while UCLA started off in typical high-flying style.

Ball engineered the Bruins\u2019 early magic, with UCLA taking an early 16-10 lead when the freshman point guard fired an almost silly three-quarter-court assist to Bryce Alford for an easy basket.

Markkanen hit a 3-pointer that cut UCLA\u2019s lead to 16-13 entering the first media timeout, but the Bruins had made 7 of 13 shots at that point, firing up a rowdy UCLA crowd that had been throwing \u201cP-E-D!\u201d and \u201cCHEAT!\u201d chants at Trier since the Wildcats hit the floor for pregame warmups.

Wasn\u2019t long, though, until Arizona\u2019s defense kicked in and the Wildcats\u2019 rebounding began to gain an edge. UA out-rebounded UCLA 42-33 overall and, most notably, had 12 offensive rebounds that led to 24 second-chance points.

That meant a missed UA shot didn\u2019t often turn into a UCLA rebound that fired up the Bruins\u2019 fast break, taking some fuel out of its frenetic offense. Arizona also had just seven turnovers, again limiting the opportunities the Bruins had to get out and run.

\u201cFor us, it was about taking care of the ball,\u201d Miller said. \u201cIf you play against a team that\u2019s as talented on offense as UCLA is, a turnover leads to some really, really great things for them. But we played with seven turnovers. So part of our defense was good offense.\u201d

Defensively, Miller said, it was about trying to get back and set things up. As has been the case with most UCLA opponents during the Bruins\u2019 19-2 season so far, failing to get back defensively for UA \u201cmeant a lot of bad things happened,\u201d Miller said.

For a while in the second half, the bad things started to build with the Wildcats. They led by 11 at halftime and up to 14 early in the second half, but their lead was cut down to just four, 74-70, with 9:05 left in the game.

That\u2019s pretty much the same point in the game that the Wildcats have begun to melt down defensively many times this season, including in their previous three games. UA even let USC cut a 23-point lead all the way down to three in its 73-66 win at USC just two days earlier.

But two days earlier, of course, UA didn\u2019t have Trier. The Wildcats announced late Friday night that the NCAA told them Friday afternoon that Trier\u2019s latest test revealed he didn\u2019t have any more traces of the unspecified PED in his system.

That meant Trier, who was not made available for comment, could play for the first time since UA lost to Wichita State in the NCAA Tournament last March.

His emotions could have been all over the map, after 19 games on the bench or at home, four months of speculation having swirled around him, possibly pulling him toward bitterness and maybe a determination to press too hard in his first game back.

Instead, Trier came off the bench after the first 6:18 of the game and didn\u2019t appear to force much of anything. He took 10 shots, making four, including a coast-to-coast layup just before the halftime buzzer. Trier also had seven rebounds, four assists and just one turnover while playing 27 minutes.

\u201cOne of the things you guys haven\u2019t seen is he\u2019s a lot more mature than he was as a freshman,\u201d Miller said. \u201cHe worked so hard in the offseason to be one of the leaders on this team. I think he was ready for the opportunity.\u201d

But all that offensive production doesn\u2019t speak to maybe the most important infusion Trier gave the Wildcats on Saturday, maybe one that they\u2019ll have the rest of the season: He provided defense and depth that now gives the Wildcats the option to throw out varied looks in the lineup, to make sure top defender Kadeem Allen gets enough rest, and to allow Miller the chance to motivate underperforming players by benching them.

\u201cWould we have won the game if Allonzo hadn\u2019t played? I don\u2019t know if we would have,\u201d Miller said. \u201cHe made a big difference. We have worn down in the second half in a lot of games. Today we didn\u2019t wear down because we had an extra player. So just that alone really makes us better.\u201d

It\u2019s even better for the Wildcats because that extra player is not just another player. Not only is Trier UA\u2019s top returning scorer from last season, but Simmons said Trier has become a \u201cgreat passer\u201d and even the stoically confident Markkanen raved about having Trier as an active teammate.

\u201cIt\u2019s huge,\u201d Markkanen said. \u201cJust to give our team confidence, knowing we have our whole team.\u201d

Their whole team \u2014 except injured forwards Ray Smith and Talbott Denny, at least \u2014 is back. Finally.

That whole team never did melt away Saturday. UA\u2019s four-point lead went back to double digits, thanks possibly to extra defensive energy afforded by the additional depth, and, fittingly, it was Trier who hit a pair of free throws with 38 seconds left to seal the win up for UA at 94-83.

Crowded against a Pauley Pavilion wall outside the UA locker room after the game, with a pack of media around him and a hundred or so giddy Wildcat fans roaming about, Miller spoke carefully about what it all meant.

For now, and maybe later.

\u201cIt means the world. It really does,\u201d Miller said. \u201cIf things didn\u2019t work out for us today and he didn\u2019t play well, it still means the world.

\u201cIt was a very, very difficult situation. The things all of us went through \u2014 the team and coaches \u2014 and to get that news very unexpectedly, and watching him play? That was great.\u201d

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LOS ANGELES \u2014 The starkest of contrasts between the college basketball of old and the college basketball of today was on display on a sunny Saturday afternoon in a packed Pauley Pavilion.

Midway through the first half of Arizona\u2019s eventual 96-85 win, a UCLA cameraman caught a pair of Bruins legends. Jamaal Wilkes and Lucius Allen were there to support Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was being feted by the program for his recent Presidential Medal of Freedom honor bestowed by President Obama.

Between the three of them, there were nine years of varsity college basketball experience, seven NCAA championships and decades worth of NBA bona fides.

Meanwhile, on the floor, five fabulous freshmen duked it out for Pac-12 supremacy.

At least three are not likely to return.

The game was maybe the most exciting in Westwood in a decade.

And it was but an apparition, a fluke, a disappearing act, not unlike Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf and Lauri Markkanen, Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons themselves.

Gone are the days when players became stars and stars became legends and legends became immortal. Ball, Leaf and Markkanen likely squared off in their one and only game at Pauley Pavilion. Simmons could be gone soon after, particularly on a day when he scored 20 points and was perhaps the most impactful freshman.

\u201cThere was a lot of hype in this game, coming into this building, seeing all this, but at the same time, coach did a good job making sure we kept our composure,\u201d said Simmons, perhaps the least-heralded of the cacophony of talent on the floor on Saturday, but the biggest contributor. \u201cWe still do what we do \u2014 we don\u2019t want to change because of who\u2019s in the crowd, who we\u2019re playing. We\u2019re playing for us.\u201d

Three decades ago, they would\u2019ve done it again and again.

Now Arizona and UCLA fans were treated to but a brief glimpse, and what a glimpse it was.

Ball was terrific early, guiding the Bruins to an early six-point lead. He finished with a 24 points, eight assist and six rebounds.

Leaf was neutralized on the glass, but hit enough shots to cement his status as an early draft first-rounder. He finished with 12 points.

Simmons had 20 points, six rebounds and five assists while playing the most minutes of any Wildcat.

And Markannen was efficient and clutch, scoring 18 points and grabbing seven rebounds while coming up with the game\u2019s biggest play for the second straight game.

Markannen grabbed a huge putback and dunk with 45 seconds left to put Arizona up by nine points and seal the game.

\u201cLauri does what he do,\u201d Simmons said. \u201cHe\u2019s a problem. Like I say, he\u2019s a big problem. He comes through with big plays, all the time, and the whole game, not just big plays. That put-back was huge. Everyone was hyped.\u201d

For Arizona, it proved an afternoon to remember in a building that no one can possibly forget.

Which is good.

Because these days, in college basketball, we know it\u2019s not going to happen again.

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Steve Alford conducts his postgame media session in a room so small and claustrophobic that you\u2019d swear John Wooden used to sit at the same podium, talking about national championships and 108-64 victories.

Not all of Pauley Pavilion was touched by a recent $140 million renovation, including a large framed Sports Illustrated cover that isn\u2019t more than 10 feet from the UCLA coach\u2019s microphone.

\u201cThe Bruins Are Back\u201d it says, still looking shiny and new 22 years after UCLA\u2019s last NCAA title.

But on Saturday it wasn\u2019t about UCLA being back, Part II or Part III or whatever it is. It was about Arizona being back. No matter how loudly the rare sellout crowd pleaded for the Bruins to make a run, the Wildcats did the running and the stunning.

\u201cOn film, they look good,\u201d said Alford. \u201cIn person, they look better.\u201d

Arizona won 96-85. It was surely one of Sean Miller\u2019s three most meaningful victories at Arizona, joining his 2011 Sweet 16 shocker over Duke and a nervy Sweet 16 triumph over San Diego State two years later.

Where this leads, no one knows, but I cannot remember any Arizona team winning 18 of its first 20 games and getting less of a look nationally than this group. It\u2019s difficult to think of any team in America on an upward trajectory more sure than Miller\u2019s team.

I still think UCLA and Oregon could get to the Final Four and not raise a single eyebrow; that\u2019s how good the Pac-12 is at the top. But now Arizona makes it a Big Three.

On Saturday, the Wildcats were back because Miller\u2019s style prevailed over Alford\u2019s. Defense isn\u2019t sexy, but it was all dressed up and took the Bruins\u2019 93-points-per game tempo down.

\u201cThey had a good game plan and they executed it to a T,\u201d said UCLA guard Bryce Alford.

Miller spent most of Friday at the team\u2019s Santa Monica hotel examining UCLA game tapes until he almost became blurry-eyed. That\u2019s what he does as much as any coach in college basketball. He is not only Mr. X but Mr. O, and if anyone is ever more prepared than Miller, who is it?

Before leaving the JW Marriott for Friday\u2019s 3 p.m., practice, Miller candidly said he wouldn\u2019t know what to expect until he saw the Bruins in real time, with every seat full and a litany of UCLA legends sitting courtside.

\u201cI\u2019m glad we play there first,\u201d he said. \u201cBecause the first time there\u2019s still a lot of unknowns, about who can guard who. It\u2019ll be more comfortable when you have them at home, when it\u2019s more to your advantage.\u201d

What Miller discovered Saturday was that his guys can guard all of the Bruins, except maybe wonderful freshman point guard Lonzo Ball. It was as if Miller decided to let Ball get his 24 points, take 15 shots, and elect to chop up UCLA\u2019s three shooting assassins: Isaac Hamilton, Bryce Alford and Aaron Holiday.

It worked. Those three volume shooters needed 34 shots to get 39 points. On most nights, they\u2019d get 50 or more points on 34 shots.

\u201cThey really contested the 3,\u201d said Hamilton. \u201cThey ran out pretty hard (on us).\u201d

Arizona won two of the most important statistical battles: shooting percentages and rebounding, and they got seven more foul shots. You almost can\u2019t lose when that happens.

But it was what isn\u2019t in the box score that turned the game. Defense and aggressiveness.

\u201cOur defensive efficiency was awful,\u201d said Alford. \u201cWe didn\u2019t defend the dribble at all. We had no rim protection when we needed it.\u201d

Until now, the Bruins\u2019 almost- leisurely approach to team defense didn\u2019t seem to matter much, and that was the big unknown. How far could they go without more attention to defensive detail? They won at Kentucky 97-92 and lost 89-87 at Oregon on two miracle-level 3-pointers in the last minute.

Games on the road don\u2019t get any more difficult than at Kentucky and Oregon this year. Maybe the Bruins could be so effective offensively that they\u2019d be the first team in history to all but yawn on defense and still win the biggest games.

\u201cWe\u2019re a very good basketball team,\u201d said Alford. \u201cBut if we want to be great, we\u2019ve got to get better (defensively).\u201d

Miller is clearly the NCAA coach of the half-season. Arizona\u2019s schedule has mostly been mushy, but the absences of Ray Smith, Allonzo Trier and Parker Jackson-Cartwright forced Miller to remake a team on the run, starting three freshmen and killing time as Dusan Ristic improved significantly.

Through it all, Miller insisted on his two staples: defense and effort. It was the key to playing time, and will remain that way now that he has depth to match any team in the country.

After 20 games, no coach sharpens the scissors and prepares to cut down the nets. But you could tell Saturday\u2019s victory pumped some serious joy into Miller\u2019s system.

\u201cIf we would have lost, a lot of people would have been upset,\u201d he said.

What people? Arizona had been 0-15 when playing UCLA teams ranked in the Top 10 in Los Angeles. Did you expect Arizona to win? Maybe Miller and the nine players he deployed Saturday were the only people in Los Angeles who thought they could stun the Bruins.

\u201cIt\u2019s Arizona,\u201d said Miller. \u201cThere are big expectations.\u201d

Trier\u2019s return didn\u2019t spoil the team\u2019s chemistry. Freshman Kobi Simmons outplayed UCLA\u2019s three perimeter veterans and Lauri Markkanen again made the most important shot of the game \u2014 a put-back shot plus a free throw with 43 seconds remaining \u2014 just as he did at USC two days earlier. Kadeem Allen, who might be the nation\u2019s best defensive player, added to his r\u00e9sum\u00e9.

Because of all that, there now are Arizona-type expectations. Big ones.

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Star reporter Zack Rosenblatt is counting down the UA\u2019s recruits in the days leading up to Feb. 1, national signing day.

Name: Kylan Wilborn

Position: Outside linebacker

Height: 6-1

Weight: 235 pounds

Hometown (high school): Sherman Oaks, California (Notre Dame Prep)

Rating: Three stars, No. 68 outside linebacker, No. 9 in the West, No. 6 in California

Other offers: Hawaii, Idaho

2016 stats: 43 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 7 sacks, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble

Who he is: One of Arizona\u2019s first commitments of the 2017 class. In a hectic recruiting cycle for UA, he\u2019s had one of the quietest recruitments.

How he fits: Wilborn will likely play the \u201cstud\u201d position as a sort of defensive end-linebacker hybrid. There is ample playing time available all across Arizona\u2019s defense, so if Wilborn adjusts quickly to the college level in fall camp, he can compete for playing time.

He said it: \u201cI really liked the way the coaches talked to me. They said they had a need at the position and think I\u2019m the man to do it. I can come in and compete for a starting position on the first day. That\u2019s definitely something I\u2019m looking forward to.\u201d \u2014 Wilborn

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LOS ANGELES \u2014 Luke Walton offers his pleasantries and squeezes through a horde of reporters. Bill Oram, the Lakers beat writer for the Orange County Register, holds out his tape recorder and gestures it toward the first-year head coach.

\u201cCan you stick this up there for me?\u201d

Oram asks Walton to place his recorder on the podium as he addresses the media, and in the NBA, where head coaches are often crustier than a 4-year-old\u2019s least favorite sandwich, this would be considered breaking etiquette. Ask most NBA head coaches to do you a favor, and they\u2019d laugh. Imagine Gregg Popovich offering a shoulder to lean on. Stan Van Gundy probably doesn\u2019t send Christmas cards.

Walton, though, in the midst of a frustrating first season with the Lakers, does not appear vexed by his team\u2019s struggles.

What\u2019s a loss or five straight for a team in rebuilding mode?

\u201cThere\u2019s always a light at the end of the tunnel,\u201d says the guy who was raised on falafel and peaceful vibes.

\u2022 \u2022 \u2022

On a team with just five players 31 years or older, Walton \u2014 a former Arizona Wildcats forward and NBA reserve \u2014 seems a perfect fit.

Walton, a product of Bill Walton and then Lute Olson, was hired away from the Warriors to be the construction foreman on what seems to be a lengthy reclamation project. At 36, Walton is the youngest head coach in the NBA. It\u2019s a good age: Walton is old enough to carve out at least some authority, young enough to do so with a smile.

Luol Deng, one of the team\u2019s elder statesmen at the age of 31, believes Walton is the ideal coach for such a rebuild. Walton eschews some of the tried-and-true methods veteran coaches use with their players \u2014 freeze-outs, cold shoulders, angry snarls \u2014 and instead tells them his door is always open.

Walton\u2019s transition from assistant coach to temporary head coach last season with the Warriors \u2014 with Steve Kerr sidelined after back surgery, Walton led the team to a stunning 39-4 record before ceding the floor with Kerr\u2019s late-January return \u2014 has paid dividends this season.

\u201cI\u2019ve had coaches I\u2019ve really got along with, assistant coaches; assistants are always the coolest,\u201d Deng said. \u201cThere\u2019s always a difference between someone you\u2019re dating and your girlfriend; with assistants, it\u2019s like you\u2019re just dating, because it\u2019s never anyone\u2019s fault. Always excuses. With your girlfriend \u2014 or your head coach \u2014 there\u2019s more pointing fingers.

\u201cBut with Luke, he tells you what you need to, and we tell him this is what we need to do it.\u201d

This is a change from last season, when the Lakers were helmed by Laker favorite Byron Scott, nearly two decades Walton\u2019s senior. Scott went 38-126 with his former team in two seasons as head coach, hampered by an incredibly young lineup and Kobe Bryant\u2019s fading star.

Larry Nance Jr., who has improved across the board after what was a surprisingly productive rookie season, called Scott\u2019s coaching style \u201cold school.\u201d

Walton, it seems, is the furthest thing from that.

\u201cWe had Byron, who believed in an old-school style, and have gone to a young approach with young players, and (Walton) is really trying to figure out how we learn the best instead of just going with what he knows best,\u201d Nance said. \u201cIt\u2019s going really well thus far. Most of our team is 19 to 25, so all we know is this younger style of ball.\u201d

There have been roadblocks, of course.

The Lakers won six of their first 10 games, but are just 10-27 since.

The team allows 110.5 points per game, fifth-worst in the NBA; the Lakers are surrendering 14.5 turnovers a game, which ranks in the bottom 10; opponents are shooting 48.1 percent from the field against them, dead last.

Walton addressed the Lakers\u2019 youth in a straightforward way when he first got the job, forward Thomas Robinson said: \u201cWe\u2019re gonna lose together, we\u2019re gonna win together, we\u2019re gonna get blown out together and we\u2019ll blow teams out together.\u201d

This is a classic fresh start. Rome wasn\u2019t built in a day. Walton knew it would take some time.

\u201cHe knew exactly what it would be like,\u201d Deng said. \u201cYou always try to tell the young guys, when you\u2019re playing well, be humble, and when you\u2019re not playing well, always stay the same. His personality rubs off on everyone. Right now, we could be banging our heads on a wall, but it\u2019s such a long season that you always have to believe the work will come through.\u201d

\u2022 \u2022 \u2022

Walton knows that well.

You might even say he was groomed for this.

His father won 86 games and three national titles at UCLA, two NBA titles in the NBA, one MVP and a Finals MVP, and is regarded as one of the great basketball players in history. Luke Walton went to Arizona to play for Olson and won 117 games in four years, then won two NBA championships as a player, became an assistant with the Warriors in 2015 and helped guide them to one championship and nearly a second.

Walton lit up when he talked about seeing Olson at Thursday\u2019s UA-USC game at Galen Center. Olson attended Friday\u2019s Lakers-Pacers game, too. Lute and Luke. One coach, and another.

\u201cIt was all about his attention to details; Lute was a stickler for details, and it really plays out,\u201d Walton said. \u201cAt times it\u2019s frustrating, and you get sick of it, but the years after years you spend there, all of a sudden you notice how much easier the game is becoming for you, how you can take advantage of other teams by focusing on the drills we do every day.\u201d

Walton is in the process of drilling that into the Lakers every day. He knows the yellow brick road is filled with a few potholes.

\u201cWe are going to get there,\u201d Walton said. \u201cThere are going to be a lot of setbacks, and a lot of times it\u2019s going to be frustrating. But it\u2019s going to be a fun journey getting there.\u201d

Deng\u2019s right: Walton\u2019s attitude is infectious.

How\u2019s this for a compliment: \u201cHe\u2019s one of those guys you don\u2019t want to disappoint. He\u2019s a guy you want to play your heart out for. We want to play hard for him.\u201d

Nance seems relieved to have someone with whom he can relate in charge of the ship.

\u201cA lot of us didn\u2019t watch the basketball teams of the \u201980s; a lot of us weren\u2019t even born yet!\u201d he said. \u201cSome of the styles they played, we\u2019re not even familiar with that. It\u2019s nice having someone whose references and knowledge are more similar to ours.\u201d

\u2022 \u2022 \u2022

Walton\u2019s relatability expands to more than just his younger players. There\u2019s a rapport with the reporters who hold him accountable.

This is Year 1, of course, and Walton is not the subject of scathing columns yet. But there is already much greater ease of discourse than with previous Lakers coaches and even players (ahem, Kobe Bryant, ahem).

Friday night before game time, the topic of Nance\u2019s health came up, as the second-year forward has been nursing a knee injury. Walton deflected a question about Nance\u2019s availability over the weekend.

\u201cAny chance you play?\u201d Oram asked.

\u201cThat\u2019s why I love you,\u201d Walton said with a laugh. \u201cThere is zero percent chance I play in the game Sunday.\u201d

Oram said that recently he was busting another reporters\u2019 chops when Walton walked up saying, \u201cI\u2019m happy to know you\u2019re a jerk to everyone and not just me.\u201d

\u201cWith Luke it\u2019s different because it does feel like you\u2019re speaking with someone who understands your language a little more,\u201d Oram said. \u201cWe get each other, to some degree.\u201d

Robinson, on his sixth team in five NBA seasons, agrees.

\u201cHe\u2019s a cool-ass dude, man,\u201d Robinson said. \u201cHe can\u2019t help it. He really can\u2019t.\u201d

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LOS ANGELES \u2013 In his first game back after a 19-game suspension for a positive performance-enhancing drug test, Allonzo Trier helped prop up the Arizona defense while the Wildcats held on for a 96-85 upset of UCLA at sold-out Pauley Pavilion.

The No. 3-ranked Bruins had not lost at home all season, but couldn\u2019t take the lead back after losing one late in the first half, even as they cut Arizona leads of up to 14 points early in the second half to just four.

UCLA shot 44 percent from the field but was outshot and outrebounded by UA, which had a 42-33 rebounding edge and shot 50 percent from the field.

Arizona had six players scoring in double figures, led by Kobi Simmons, who had 20 points on 6-for-14 shooting. Lauri Markkanen added 18 points and seven rebounds.

Trier had 12 points on 4-for-10 shooting, plus seven rebounds and four assists.

Trier didn\u2019t enter the game until the first media timeout but finished the first half with six points that included a coast-to-coast layup just before the halftime buzzer, while Arizona took a 48-37 halftime lead.

In the first half, Markkanen led the Wildcats \u00a0with 10 points and four rebounds, while Simmons also had 10 points.

UCLA was led in the first half by Lonzo Ball, who had 15 points and three assists, but the Wildcats outshot the Bruins, 51.5 percent to 44.1 percent.

Ball finished with 24 points, eight assists and six rebounds.

Ball engineered a characteristically fast tempo early in the game, with UCLA taking an early 16-10 lead when Ball fired a three-quarter-court assist to Bryce Alford for an easy basket.

UCLA made 7 of 13 shots at the first media timeout, but the Wildcats\u2019 defense began to kick in at that point and Arizona gradually moved ahead to its 11-point margin.

UA said it was notified Friday afternoon by the NCAA that Trier had tested negative for any remaining traces of a performance-enhancing drug that led to an eventual 19-game suspension. Trier has been practicing with the Wildcats all season but said in a statement Wednesday that he wouldn\u2019t be allowed to return until he tested clean.

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