Arizona standouts Allonzo Trier and Deandre Ayton have done nothing to take away from the considerable preseason hype they’ve received so far.
Arizona’s 91-59 win over Cal State Bakersfield on Thursday at McKale Center was just another example: Trier had 28 points on remarkably efficient shooting, while Ayton posted his third double-double in as many games as a collegian.
Going 8 for 9 from the field and making all three 3-pointers he took, Trier nearly became the first Arizona player ever to hit the 30-point mark in the first three games of the season, but was taken out with 4:37 to go, when UA was already ahead 87-51.
Trier and Michael Dickerson (1996-97) were the only UA players to have hit the 30-point mark in two games to begin a season, while Jerryd Bayless (in the middle of the 2007-08 season) is the only UA player to have hit 30 points three times in a row.
Miller said he would have kept Trier in if he knew he was only two points shy of 30 and but joked that “ he missed three free throws so we’re even.”
In the opening three games this season, Trier is averaging 30 points on 70 percent shooting and has hit 10 of 17 (58.8 percent) from 3.
“He’s a great scorer,” Ayton said of Trier. “He’s the best shooting guard in the NCAA right now.”
After going 1 for 5 from the field in the first half, Ayton was pretty unstoppable, too. He scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half.
“The first half I wasn’t really making any shots,” Ayton said. “Coach (Sean) Miller talked to me and said `Play through it and guard the ball pretty well.’ ”
At one point in the second half, Ayton had three dunks in a row, the third off an inbounds pass from guard Alex Barcello.
Asked about it afterward, Barcello said he threw the ball and didn’t see the shot go in, having turned around on defense, but was celebratory afterward.
Ayton, meanwhile, was just Ayton. Cool and confident.
“Did you see that one on ESPN?” he asked after Barcello recounted the play, referring to a previous dunk.
Ayton wound up leaving the game with Trier at the 4:37 mark, after he totaled 18 points and 10 rebounds.
After the game, Miller praised both Trier, named a first-team preseason AP All-American, and Ayton, a candidate for the No. 1 NBA pick in June.
“He makes it look easy,” Miller said of Trier, adding that Ayton rebounded well from a tough first half.
A day after Miller expressed considerable concern about his defense, the Wildcats responded on that end of the court, too. Arizona kept Bakersfield without a single three-point shot in seven tries and 36.7 percent overall in the first half.
However, Arizona’s defense let up early in the second half, when it allowed Bakersfield to shoot 62.5 percent over the first 12 minutes after halftime. Arizona was also getting outrebounded 8-5 at that point in the second half.
But because the Wildcats hit 8 of 10 to start the second half, they stayed ahead comfortably and they ultimately held the Roadrunners to 39 percent overall shooting. That was a contrast to UA’s game with Bakersfield last season, when the Roadrunners went on a 17-0 run in the second half and lost by only 12.
Bakersfield’s Damiyne Durham hit a 3-pointer to open the second half, but that was the only one the Roadrunners would hit all night.
In the first half, Parker Jackson-Cartwright hit a half-court shot just before the halftime buzzer to give Arizona a 44-27 halftime lead.
The shot drew wild applause at the end of an otherwise uneventful first half. With 2.7 seconds left, Dusan Ristic inbounded to Jackson-Cartwright, who pulled up two steps shy of the midcourt line and fired it in.
Ristic finished with 12 points in the half while Jackson-Cartwright had seven. Trier was typically efficient, hitting 4 of 5 shots while passing out of traffic on multiple occasions.
For the first time this season, the Wildcats were operating at full strength, except that forward Rawle Alkins (broken foot) and assistant coach Book Richardson (suspended) remained out. Alkins has stopped wearing a boot and even took some early warmup shots before the game.
After guard Brandon Randolph played just four minutes on Sunday against UMBC in his first game back from a Nov. 3 concussion, Randolph was a more significant factor in 13 minutes Thursday. UA also returned assistant coach Mark Phelps, who was suspended for the Wildcats’ first two games because of an unspecified NCAA violation.
Miller started freshman Emmanuel Akot over Randolph at small forward while playing Ira Lee, Dylan Smith and Barcello first off the bench. He then turned to Randolph and eventually Keanu Pinder.
Before the game, 24/7 Sports reported that UA commit Shareef O’Neal signed nonbinding scholarship papers with Arizona.
UA’s other commit, Brandon Williams announced last week he signed with the Wildcats, also in nonbinding form. O’Neal has not announced anything publicly, though his travel ball coach told 24/7 Sports that he signed.
Miller confirmed he has received letters from both Williams and O’Neal.
“It’s exciting to have both of those guys joining our family and our future,” he said.
Signing the financial aid papers allows both players the option to easily go elsewhere if the Wildcats are handed NCAA sanctions or other issues arise. Normally, coaches press for players to sign binding letters of intent by saying they won’t reserve a spot unless they know for sure a player is coming.