Deandre Ayton and his teammates have something to prove, and Monday provided another reminder that the job isn’t done yet.
Even after crushing Long Beach State at home and winning at UNLV in overtime last week — and with Ayton picking up Pac-12 Player of the Week honors — the Wildcats went unranked in the AP Top 25 poll for a second straight week.
Not only that, but they also lost 24 votes from last week in the AP poll. Arizona received only 10 votes from media around the country, the 36th-most votes in college basketball, and they received the 30th-most votes in the USA Today coaches poll.
ASU (16) and USC (25) are the Pac-12’s only representatives in the AP Top 25.
But the Wildcats have the perfect opportunity to jump back in — if they can beat seventh-ranked Texas A&M on Tuesday in Phoenix and Alabama at home on Saturday. The Crimson Tide (6-2) received 21 votes in the AP poll, effectively the No. 32 spot.
While players and coaches for both UA and Texas A&M were unavailable for comment before Tuesday’s game, Ayton made it clear after UA’s win in Las Vegas that the Wildcats are on a mission after their 0-3 performance in the Bahamas over Thanksgiving week.
“Not just against UNLV, but we just wanted to show everybody that Arizona is here, that we’re back on our feet,” Ayton said.
A first for Ayton
Even though Ayton is just one of four players in Division I to average at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and a 60 percent shooting mark, the Pac-12 Player of the Week award he received Monday was his first such honor of the season.
Part of that problem is that his teammate, Allonzo Trier, is averaging 23.9 points and has picked up some of UA’s nominations. Trier also won the first Pac-12 Player of the Week on Nov. 13, after he averaged 31 points in UA’s wins over NAU and UMBC.
Last week, Ayton averaged 20.5 points on 62 percent shooting, while averaging 9.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in UA’s two wins.
He had 28 points and 10 rebounds in the Wildcats’ 91-88 comeback win in overtime at UNLV, while barely missing a double-double at home against Long Beach State (13 points, nine rebounds), when he played just 25 minutes.
Among other top nominees for the Pac-12 award this week were Washington’s Noah Dickerson, who averaged 20 points and seven rebounds in two Husky wins, and Stanford’s Reid Travis, who averaged 23 points and 10 rebounds between a home win over Montana and a loss at Long Beach State.
Arizona and Texas A&M have both started off the season with long lists of suspensions.
Academically ineligible last season, Texas A&M redshirt freshman guard J.J. Caldwell began the season with a suspension after an arrest on suspicion of DUI, a charge that was later dismissed.
Standout forward Robert Williams, meanwhile, was suspended for an exhibition and two regular-season games because of an unspecified team violation, meaning both Caldwell and Williams missed the Aggies’ season opener against West Virginia in Germany.
In addition, both junior guard Admon Gilder and junior forward D.J. Hogg were kept out of Texas A&M’s exhibition game with Tarleton State because of an unspecified team violation.
“It’s disappointing, obviously,” A&M coach Billy Kennedy told the Houston Chronicle last month.
“It’s part of the process with a young team. I’d much rather go through it with them (now) and hopefully they learn from it and put it behind us and move on.”
Arizona’s suspension list has included: assistant coach Book Richardson (federal bribery and fraud charges, the UA is moving to fire him); assistant coach Mark Phelps (NCAA violation, two games); senior forward Keanu Pinder (NCAA violation, one game) and Dylan Smith (unspecified team violation, two exhibition and one regular-season game).