It wasn’t exactly a question Sean Miller asked after hearing a couple of questions about his team’s suspensions and what it all meant, but he said he’d ask it himself … then came a statement.
“Allonzo Trier, I thought, had a great night tonight,” Miller said, bringing some laughter to the press conference.
Great night might be an understatement. It was a career night for Trier who didn’t know he had a career-high game until he saw UA officials had posted it on the screen. He had 32 points in Arizona’s 101-67 win over Northern Arizona in McKale Center.
Then Miller waxed poetic on the numbers: 10 for 13 from the floor, 10 for 11 from the free-throw line and 2 for 2 from the 3-point line.
“He was very efficient,” Miller said. “Allonzo has put in as much work on the game of basketball as any player that we’ve had. He’s fought through adversity and it’s helped him. He’s more mature. From an offensive perspective he takes a back seat to nobody.”
In fact, Trier looks more fluid and/or more confident this season save for Friday night’s competition. He got to the basket with ease and hit his deep shot with same.
“He has a gift of getting there (to score). It just feels like he does it in a more efficient way,” Miller said. “He set the tone.”
That was the plan – maybe – or it was the circumstances of the game.
“I tried to set the tone for my teammates,” Trier said. “I’m one of the leaders on the team. I tried to come out and take care of business.”
Business was good in the season opener for the Cats.
Deandre Ayton, Arizona’s star freshman forward, had a double-double, finishing with 19 points and 12 rebounds.
Miller said Ayton had a difficult job of defending ball screens and “for whatever reason he wasn’t stopping the ball.”
He went from being passive in the first half to being “way more aggressive in the second half, ” Miller said.
“This is game one so he’ll have a better go-round (in the next game),” Miller said. “He was this close (Miller’s fingers placed closely together) from having a big night. This is something he can learn from as well.”
You wouldn’t have thought Ayton had any issues after talking to NAU coach Jack Murphy, the former UA multi-tasker for Lute Olson.
“Deandre Ayton is unbelievable,” NAU coach Jack Murphy said. “I was looking at the wall yesterday in the Richard Jefferson Gymnasium and I don’t know if there is one person that compares to Ayton at this stage (at Arizona in the past). Obviously, there have been some unbelievable players that have come through here, but Deandre is a special player. He changes the game with everything in terms of matchups and we do defensively and offensively.”
Senior guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright didn’t have a bad game either, playing 26 minutes and having eight assists with no turnovers.
“He was terrific,” Miller said.
But the star was Trier, who took control and until he left the game with 4:47 left and Arizona in comfortable control.
“I took good shots and trusted my preparation going into the game,” he said. “I work really hard at what I do.”
Miller added: “he has great ability, great range on his shot and great accuracy on his shot. And he’s an amazing free throw shooter. It’s difficult to deal with him when we play team basketball.”
It’s all about knowing when to attack and not to attack, Miller said. Trier has figured it out.
Arizona played with just eight scholarship players because of suspensions, injuries and an NCAA violation. The players said it was difficult to play with so few players but they got through it.
“We were down as bad as you can be,” Miller said, talking about his bench. “Out of the 17 players we have seven were not able to play.”
He expects three of the players back – Brandon Randolph, Dylan Smith and Keanu Pinder – to add to the team’s depth.
Pinder was suspended for the game due to violating undisclosed NCAA rules. The school said it was a one-game suspension. Arizona assistant coach Mark Phelps was suspended Friday for a violation of NCAA rules. He will not be paid for five days and miss two games, returning on Nov. 15. His suspension is said to not be involved with the current FBI investigation into college basketball, one in which UA assistant Book Richardson has been indicted.
Miller referred to the school’s release of that information, decline to elaborate on the situation.