Maybe there’s a lot of growth needed, a few tough losses ahead, constant battles for playing time, but the Arizona Wildcats made one thing clear at their Red-Blue Game on Friday:
They have a little bit of everything.
From 5-foot-something point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright, who had seven assists to zero turnovers, all the way up to a stunningly large and efficient frontcourt, the Wildcats entertained a sellout crowd at McKale Center during their annual preseason celebration.
Technically, the game was won 53-49 by the Red team or, in Nike-speak, the “Sunset” team that wore red uniforms that actually turn blue at the shoulders and bottoms of the shorts.
But that didn’t matter as much as the big picture that was on display.
That’s the picture that includes a 7-foot freshman at power forward, where Lauri Markkanen came through with 14 points, two three-pointers and seven rebounds for the Blue team.
The Wildcats also had a strong performance from newly freed senior Kadeem Allen, who moved over from point guard to shooting guard with UA’s addition of freshman Kobi Simmons. Allen had 14 points and five rebounds for the Blue.
Arizona also had a welcome-back party not only for the 1997 national championship team, which was honored at halftime, but also for Ray Smith, who came back from his second ACL tear to collect 10 points and five rebounds for the Blue.
And the Wildcats had their top returning scorer back in typical form, even though Allonzo Trier’s eligibility has been the subject of speculation all week. UA coach Sean Miller said he “can’t respond to the rumors” about Trier’s future.
On Friday, which was essentially a glorified practice, Trier had 16 points on 7-for-11 shooting, plus three assists to only one turnover. Pretty much exactly what could have been expected from Trier after Miller said last summer that Trier worked harder in the offseason than any other player he’s coached.
So for mid-October, collectively, it was a promising show for the Wildcats, who appear to have more potential than the team that lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament last March.
But Miller stopped short of calling it a complete team or making any other conclusions. It’s just too early to make those kinds of statements, he indicated.
“I don’t know,” Miller said. “A year ago we had a lot happen that derailed us. The team that finished the year didn’t begin the year and that happens sometimes. There’s circumstances, injuries that can take away from a team’s success.
“So part of it is to stay healthy and part of it is we’re counting on the younger players to develop and improve. Certainly, they have a lot of talent.”
That much was clear from the beginning Friday, even in the pregame dunk competition. While Simmons showed off his considerable hops, power wing Rawle Alkins impressed on two major fronts to steal the show: One, he actually talked Miller into letting him serve as his dunk prop, and two, he jumped clear over Miller’s head, grabbed the ball from his coach and put it easily through the hoop.
Miller said he told Alkins that “I’ll do it if you let me coach you really hard on defense,” and the deal was done. The dunk was so impressive that the fact that Alkins’ second-round effort received only 7s out of 10 from a panel of 1997 alums judging the contest didn’t matter. Alkins won the whole contest.
Then during the first half of the game, Markkanen scored 10 points and pulled down four rebounds in the first half alone, hitting two three-pointers before halftime. He had 14 points and seven rebounds for the game, which was only 24 minutes long.
“He’s so versatile and he’s really dangerous in the pick-and-pop,” Jackson-Cartwright said. “It’s special. If he’s open it’s pretty much going in every time.”
Trier and Ristic led an efficient effort by the Red team with 16 points each, with Ristic 7 for 10 from the field, Trier going 7 of 11 and Alkins adding another 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting.
Of the UA’s other newcomers, Simmons had five points on 1-of-6 shooting for the Blue while being mostly matched up with Jackson-Cartwright, and junior college transfer Keanu Pinder had two points on 1-for-5 shooting while pulling down six rebounds.
Sophomore guard Dylan Smith, who will redshirt this season after transferring from UNC Asheville, went scoreless with one assist in six minutes.