For anyone worried that the return of Allonzo Trier would upset Arizona’s chemistry, don’t be.
Trier’s season debut after missing the first 19 games was as seamless as could be in the Wildcats’ 96-85 victory at No. 3 UCLA on Saturday. He entered the game with 13:42 left in the first half … and then didn’t much leave the court.
The sophomore guard played 27 minutes, scoring 12 points, grabbing seven rebounds and dishing out four assists. He committed only one turnover.
“It means a lot, especially for this team and his family,” coach Sean Miller said in his postgame press conference. “He has gone through a lot and he’s a really good player. Having one of your best players makes a difference. I don’t think we win without him.”
"Allonzo Trier with a grown man's move to the rim!"
This game is very fun. https://t.co/kKLxlz0xu8
Trier, who in November won an appeal to the NCAA on his year-long suspension for failing a drug test, still had to wait until the PED was clear of his system. Arizona got the news Friday that it was. The news leaked out that night and was confirmed when the university issued a statement.
“We didn’t know that he was going to play until late in the night, so we didn’t game plan,” said UCLA coach Steve Alford, adding that there was no early-morning practice Saturday. “That’s obviously a big boost for them as he’s a very good player. That impacted their team in a positive way.”
Trier’s return is going to be a problem for opponents. Arizona has other players who can score, but Trier is a player defenses have to respect. When he drives — and he’s really good at that — defenses collapse. That just might leave open 7-foot sharp-shooting forward Lauri Markkanen.
Twice against UCLA, Trier drove and dished for a Markkanen 3-pointer.
Trier was showered with chants of “Ster-oids, ster-oids” from the Pauley Pavilion crowd, which is something he will have to deal with on the road, even though the NCAA clearly believed his story that the banned substance was administered to him inadvertently and/or without his knowledge.
He made 4 of 10 shots, including one rim-rattling dunk on the fast break. He was 1 of 4 from 3-point range.
Trier averaged 14.8 points per game last season. He’s a go-to scorer to pair with Markkanen. He gives Arizona five guards/wings, as the Wildcats finally have enough depth to rest and rotate players, likely eliminating the fatigue-fueled defensive collapses that nearly sullied winning efforts against Texas A&M, USC and in a few other games.
Trier is going to gobble up some minutes from teammates. That can be a tricky thing at this stage of the season. But Trier appeared to be such a good teammate during his suspension — practicing hard every day according to Miller and leading cheers from the bench during games — that his return stirred a collective sense of joy from the Wildcats rather than jealously or fretting about playing time.
At least that’s how they played against the Bruins.
“Big lift,” freshman guard Kobi Simmons of Trier’s debut.
“It just adds more depth. They have to change up their game plan. We added another player they didn’t know was coming. That was big. … After he got settled, after the first eight, nine minutes, he was our Trier.”