HOUSTON – In a “Lone Star Shootout” game between the best team in Arizona and one of the best in Texas, the Europeans won.
That is, Dusan Ristic and Lauri Markkanen dominated Texas A&M inside early, and Arizona held off a furious late rally from Texas A&M to win 67-63 before about 5,000 fans at the Toyota Center.
Ristic tied his season-high with 18 points while Markkanen added 17 points and seven rebounds. Markkanen also hit 3 of 5 three-pointers, the only long range shots Arizona hit during the game despite taking 15 total.
The Wildcats built leads of up to 22 points in the second half before Texas A&M went on an 18-0 run toward the end of the game to make things interesting.
A layup from Robert Williams made it 65-58 with 45 seconds left and a turnover from UA's Kadeem Allen led to a layup from Tyler Davis cut it to 65-60 with 36 seconds left.
Then Texas A&M’s Admon Gilder stole the ball from Rawle Alkins, and the Aggies’ subsequent possession led to two free throws by Davis. While Davis missed both free throws, the Aggies rebounded and dished to D.J. Hogg, who sank a three-pointer to make it 65-63 with 21 seconds left.
But when UA drove downcourt, Alkins was fouled before he reached the three-point line. Alkins’ first attempt bounced off the rim and in, while the second went through easily, and Texas A&M missed a final attempt.
Arizona ultimately made up the margin of victory at the free throw line, hitting 20 of 24 free throws, while the Aggies were just 10 of 17. Texas A&M shot 44.6 percent from the field but had 14 turnovers to UA's nine, though three turnovers came during the Aggies' late run.
The win moved Arizona the Wildcats to 10-2 overall heading into their final nonconference game Tuesday against New Mexico at McKale Center.
While it was the Wildcats’ biggest win of the season so far, considering the Aggies’ power rating in the mid-30s, it did not come before a hostile road crowd. Instead, there were nearly as many UA fans as Texas A&M fans in the 19,000-seat Toyota Center, which had its upper sections completely curtained off and the lower sections only about half full.
The UA fans were loudest midway through the second half when Kobi Simmons found Chance Comanche for an alley-oop dunk that gave the Wildcats 52-31 lead, but the Aggies drew the most cheers until the final buzzer because of their late rally.
In the first half, Ristic and Lauri Markkanen combined for 26 points to power Arizona to a 41-28 halftime lead.
The Wildcats found Ristic early and often inside, during a matchup of big front lines on both sides. Ristic was 4 for 8 already through the first five minuts of the game, with Rawle Alkins dishing him assists on two baskets and Kadeem Allen on another.
Markkanen added 12 points and five rebounds for the Wildcats, hitting both of the team's three-pointers, while Alkins totaled eight points and four assists.
UA shot 48.3 percent from the field overall but made just 2 of 8 three-pointers in the large NBA arena, home of the Houston Rockets. The Aggies shot just 2 of 7 from long range and 35.7 percent overall.
While Arizona trailed by three points early in the game, the Wildcats held leads of about two baskets for most of the half until they went on a 9-0 run over the final 2:24 of the half.
The Wildcats were playing their 12th game of the season without sophomore guard Allonzo Trier because of his NCAA eligibility issue.
Trier traveled with the Wildcats to Houston, but wore a blue sweatsuit, along with injured teammates Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Talbott Denny.
Ray Smith, who tore his ACL early last month, did not make the trip because he is still recovering from surgery and it was considered not worth the risk of taking him on the Wildcats' charter flight for such a short trip.
The NCAA cleared Trier to travel with the Wildcats, according to UA coach Sean Miller, though he remains ineligible. Trier was not cleared to take UA's first two trips of the season, to Honolulu and Las Vegas, but has been to Los Angeles and now Houston. He did not go to Missouri last week because of fall semester finals, Miller said.