Having to face smaller centers most of the season – and struggling against Gonzaga big man Przemek Karnowski last Saturday – Arizona center Dusan Ristic finally reached a comfort zone Tuesday.
In Arizona’s 79-57 win over UC Irvine and its tall frontcourt players, Ristic had a season-high 18 points and 10 rebounds for the second double-double of his UA career.
Lauri Markkanen joined Ristic as the Wildcats' scoring leader, getting his 18 points with the help of 4-for-6 3-point shooting, while Rawle Alkins added 14 points and seven rebounds.
The Wildcats held UC Irvine to just 38.2 percent shooting while hitting 53.8 percent themselves, including 8 for 17 from 3-point range. Arizona made only 1 of 8 3-pointers in its 69-62 loss to Gonzaga on Saturday in Los Angeles.
Up by 16 at halftime, the Wildcats built leads of up to 30 points as the game wore on in the second half. Arizona coach Sean Miller pulled out a seldom-used zone defense on occasion in the second half, while Markkanen heated up from the perimeter, and UA also relied heavily on walk-on Tyler Trillo as it dealt with foul trouble.
Trillo, who earned a spot on the UA roster this fall by playing well in a tryout, had two assists over 13 minutes.
In the first half, Ristic had a season-high 14 points already to lead UA to a 39-23 halftime lead.
Ristic, playing opposite 7-foot-2 UC Irvine center Ioannis Dimakopoulos and the Anteaters’ other big interior players, also pulled down four rebounds. Markkanen and Alkins each added another four rebounds for the Wildcats, who improved to 6-3.
The Wildcats held UC Irvine (4-5) to 34.6 percent shooting, including a 2-for-9 effort from 3-point territory, although they were outrebounded 18-16 by the Anteaters of the Big West Conference.
The Wildcats held single digits throughout the first half until going on a 9-0 run in the final 2:37 that was capped by a field goal and three-pointer from Kadeem Allen.
UA took early leads of up to nine points, going ahead 16-9 on two free throws from Kobi Simmons with 12 minutes left in the half, but UC Irvine cut it to five in part with aggressive drives to the basket by Eassyu Worku and Jaron Martin.
The game stayed within two baskets for most of the rest of the half, though a pair of free throws from Keanu Pinder and a hook shot from Ristic put UA up by nine again, 30-21, with 3:33 left in the half, and UA then went on its 9-0 run.
Arizona played as usual without guard Allonzo Trier, who once again wore sweats and sat on the bench while his NCAA eligibility issue plays out. Trier has missed all nine of UA’s regular-season games and two exhibition games.
UA has declined to comment about Trier's status since the issue surfaced in mid-October, though the NCAA changed its ruling to allow him to travel last week to Los Angeles while he was not allowed to go on the Wildcats' trips to Honolulu and Las Vegas last month, UA coach Sean Miller said.
Arizona will next travel to play at Missouri on Saturday at 10 a.m. Arizona time. The Tigers beat Miami (Ohio) 81-55 on Tuesday to move to 5-3.