Because the Pac-12 gave them only one game this week, the Arizona Wildcats were able to take an unusually long four full days for Christmas break.
That allowed everyone to go home or at least spend time with family or friends nearby while allowing guard Allonzo Trier (mild knee sprain) and Alex Barcello (ankle sprain) some extra time to rest.
UA coach Sean Miller said Wednesday that both Trier and Barcello are fine now, and that the extra days benefited his guys “tremendously.”
Of course, there’s a drawback to that one game this week: It’s against Arizona State.
The Sun Devils (12-0) are undefeated heading into the Saturday evening showdown at McKale Center, and are clearly the conference’s biggest upbeat story of the nonconference season. ASU has already beaten Kansas State, Xavier and Kansas.
“Arizona State right now is the class of the league,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle said.
Miller wouldn’t argue over that.
The Wildcats (10-3) have better Sagarin and KenPom power ratings than ASU, but the Sun Devils are the higher-rated team in The Associated Press poll at No. 3. The UA is 17th, having won seven straight games since losing three in the Battle 4 Atlantis.
“They’re not 12-0 because they’re lucky,” Miller said of ASU. “They’ve beaten good teams on the road. They’ve held serve at home and they’ve represented our conference incredibly well. If the NCAA Tournament started today, they’re right there as a No. 1 seed. That’s really all you have to say.”
Miller went on to compliment ASU coach Bobby Hurley – “he’s done as good a job of coaching his team as anybody in the country” – along with the Devils’ guards and even forward Romello White, whom Miller said opens things up for those guards “because you have to worry about him.”
It was the kind of praise that’s been bubbling all around Hurley over the past month, ever since the Sun Devils beat Kansas State and Xavier to win the Las Vegas Invitational over Thanksgiving week.
“Everything is happening really fast,” Hurley said. “It feels like time has flown by and there’s just a lot happening. I’ve talked about us going from zero to 100. … We’ve put ourselves in a tremendous position.”
At the same time, of course, Hurley is also wary of what his guys have ahead on Saturday: While ASU is calling itself “Guard U” this season because of how well Tra Holder, Shannon Evans, Kodi Justice and Remy Martin are playing, the Wildcats are powered with high-octane wing players and two 7-footers, including the possible No. 1 NBA Draft pick next spring in Deandre Ayton.
“Ayton can score inside — he’s got touch, great footwork, terrific hands and can face up,” Hurley said.
“He seems to get rebounds very effortlessly out there. And (Dusan) Ristic provides them experience, and a low-post threat they can throw to inside. In addition to that, they have big wings. (Allonzo) Trier has the ability to attack the wing and shoot 3s. (Rawle) Alkins is getting back to form. They have size and the ability to get to the rim.”
So with the Wildcats and the rest of the Pac-12 ahead, Hurley said it’s time to forget about that 12-0 record.
“It’s 0-0 for this phase of the season and we’ve gotta move on,” Hurley said. “We’ve got a huge challenge in front of us.”
Other items from Wednesday’s Pac-12 conference call, which prefaced league play that begins with four games Friday and a pair of rivalry games — Arizona-ASU and Stanford-Cal — on Saturday:
- UCLA has decided to extend the shoplifting-related suspensions to the entire season for Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, but the forwards have returned to practice with the team.
- “They’ve done everything we’ve asked of them,” Bruins coach Steve Alford said. “They did a great job finishing the (academic) quarter. Having them back in practice has energized us and is good for them.”
- Utah is fighting a rash of injuries that coach Larry Krystkowiak says he hopes will get better by the time the Utes host Arizona on Jan. 4 in Salt Lake City. He said forward David Collette (abdominal strain), forward Donnie Tillman (sprained foot) and guard Gabe Bealer (hyperextended foot) all remain sidelined this week. “We were hoping we’d be in a more favorable position after the break,” Krystkowiak said. “Our fingers are crossed.”
- Boyle said the broken foot suffered by starting forward Tory Miller-Stewart thinned out his frontcourt and forced him to throw redshirt freshman 7-footer Dallas Walton “to the wolves.” The Buffaloes (8-4) will host Arizona on Jan. 6.
- California coach Wyking Jones spoke highly of Stanford forward Reid Travis, the conference’s scoring leader (21.4 points) whom the Bears will face Saturday at Maples Pavilion. “On the perimeter he’s now a threat to take guys off the bounce,” Jones said. “He’s expanded his game and gotten better.”