Allonzo Trier scored a career-high 32 points while freshman Deandre Ayton had 19 points and 12 rebounds to lead shorthanded Arizona to a 101-67 win over NAU at McKale Center on college basketball’s opening night.
The Wildcats were playing with only eight scholarship players, after announcing before the game that forward Keanu Pinder was suspended for one game for an unspecified NCAA violation. UA also announced that assistant coach Mark Phelps was suspended for two games for an unspecified NCAA violation.
Phelps will also be suspended for UA's game against UMBC on Sunday and a total of five days. UA said his suspension is not related to the ongoing federal investigation into college basketball. Pinder is scheduled to return Sunday, UA said.
The suspensions mean a total of seven eligible UA team members were not be involved with Friday's game: Phelps, Pinder, assistant coach Book Richardson (federal charges), Dylan Smith (team violation), Brandon Randolph (possibly because of a concussion), Rawle Alkins (broken foot) and walk-on guard Kory Jones (ACL).
All that left even more opportunity for Trier, who was 10 for 12 from the field, while making the two 3-pointers he tried and 10 of 11 free throws.
Up 49-36 at halftime, UA went on a 9-0 run early in the second half to take a 73-49 lead, and by then, Trier already had tied his previous career high of 28, which he set last season against UCLA at McKale Center.
With the Wildcats carrying a 35-point lead into the final five minutes, UA coach Sean Miller pulled Trier and Ayton, while inserting Tucson native Talbott Denny into his first official game as a Wildcat. Denny, who grew up watching games at McKale with his season-ticket-holding parents, spent four years at Lipscomb before transferring as a graduate to Arizona in the summer of 2016 – but sat out last season after tearing his ACL.
Arizona wound up shooting 59.6 percent while clamping down defensively against NAU after halftime. The Lumberjacks shot 48.4 percent in the first half but only 28.6 percent in the second.
In the first half, Trier had 22 points, far surpassing the single-half highs of 16 points he had as a freshman and sophomore. Arizona shot 57.1 percent from the field in the first half but allowed the Lumberjacks to shoot 48.4, and each team had seven turnovers in the half.
Ayton added 12 points and five rebounds before halftime for UA, which used a 12-2 run in the middle of the first half to take a 40-24 lead though the Wildcats were never fully able to pull away from their in-state neighbors.
While UA said the suspensions of Phelps and Pinder were not related to the ongoing federal investigation into college basketball, the basketball program is being looked into by an independent investigation that the school has commissioned. UA gave no details about what the suspensions were based on.
Arizona’s offcourt troubles began on Sept. 26, when Richardson was arrested on federal bribery and fraud charges, and the school has since moved to fire him. UA head coach Sean Miller has consistently declined to comment on the situation, except to say he supports the investigation and has worked for years to run things under NCAA rules.
The absence of Richardson and Phelps on the sidelines left Miller with just one fulltime assistant, former Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar, while assistant director of basketball operations Austin Carroll has been an acting assistant coach.
In a Sept. 26 federal complaint, Richardson was alleged to have taken $20,000 and funneling at least most of it to five-star point guard Jahvon Quinerly, who committed to the Wildcats but has since decommitted.
The complaint also quoted a sports agent saying that a current UA player has been paid, and that he has easy access to UA's normally closed practices. The complaint also quoted a shoe company rep saying Arizona offered five-star Florida forward Nassir Little $150,000.
In addition, the federal complaint alleges that a then-UA assistant coach other than Richardson exchanged two telephone calls with a financial advisor who later played a role in a scheme to pay players via coaches the day after two UA coaches met with the advisor in Las Vegas during the Pac-12 Tournament.
The only Arizona coach on last year's staff who is no longer on it is Joe Pasternack, who left his position as UA associate head coach to become the head coach of UC Santa Barbara.