PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas — Billboards never greeted Deandre Ayton home to the Bahamas this week, and neither did the win column.
Instead, after Arizona’s three-game collapse in the Battle 4 Atlantis ended in a 89-64 loss to Purdue late Friday night, Ayton gathered with a small crowd of family and friends around a gigantic orange lawn mower stationed outside an interview room, and said goodbye.
It was his only victory of the week.
“I enjoyed myself, talking to family, seeing my dad and family. They came to the games,” Ayton said. “I just wanted to win. That was about it.”
Ayton, who anticipated the idea of arriving to “billboards” and Nassau locals supporting the Wildcats this week, did not individually let anyone down.
In three games at the Battle 4 Atlantis, Ayton averaged 22 points, 12.3 rebounds, shot 62.1 percent from the field, made 2 of 7 3-pointers and averaged nine trips to the free throw every game.
The rest of his teammates, collectively, averaged just 47.3 points, shot 40.4 percent from the field, made only 8 of 47 3-pointers (17.0 percent) and took only 14.3 free throws on average.
That lack of support made for a pretty hollow homecoming.
“Probably the biggest disappointment for me is just bringing Deandre home and having the team he represents lose three games because I think it’s fairly obvious that it had very little to do with his performance,” UA coach Sean Miller said. “He actually played three exceptional games, especially when you consider that he’s so young.
“Sometimes you bring a guy back home and the moment’s too big — they have a lot of extra pressure on them and it almost doesn’t work out. But I think everybody saw his unbelievable talent.”
Miller said it was especially tough for Ayton to cram in family time while playing a nonstop tournament such as the Atlantis event. Ayton met his father briefly during the Wildcats’ appearance at a school on Tuesday and then saw him at the games Wednesday through Friday.
Not much more.
“It’s hard when you have three games in three days,” Miller said. “You have to have meetings to prepare for the games, you have to have walk-throughs for the games. You have to have meals. You have to have a curfew. There isn’t a whole lot of time. Whether you’re from the Bahamas or North Dakota, to do a whole lot in these three days is hard.
“It’s just the focus is on the performance and you want to win. You want to play well.
“I will say this: He doesn’t have to apologize to anybody. He played well.”
Still, Ayton tried. He spoke of having to “get back in the lab and work on our gaps,” while looking ahead. Arizona still has seven more nonconference games remaining, starting with a home game against Long Beach State on Wednesday, then a road game at UNLV on Saturday.
Like their quick week in the Bahamas, the Wildcats don’t have much time to waste.
“What we can do is just move on to the next play,” Ayton said. “That’s how I take it. That’s how we take a loss.”
- Freshman forward Emmanuel Akot returned to the starting lineup Friday but wound up playing just one minute in the second half, and only 10 overall, because of a knee issue, Miller said. “Emmanuel played hard and well against SMU but his knee was bothering him (Friday), and he really couldn’t go,” Miller said.
- Miller said the Wildcats wouldn’t have lost all three games in the Battle 4 Atlantis if forward Rawle Alkins had been able to play but otherwise declined to speculate on how Alkins might have affected the team. “I don’t really know,” Miller said. “He hasn’t been there. We can only go with the group that we have and keep our fingers crossed that his health bounces our way here over the next couple of weeks or so. We can’t rush him. It’s a foot injury.” Alkins is within the front end of the 8-12-week timetable given for his return but Miller said this week he was not sure when Alkins will return.