Arizona Athletics

Ayton: ‘Guys stepped up’ as Arizona finds a way to beat A&M

PHOENIX – Arizona’s Big Two may have only been a Big One but it was the other guys that helped Arizona beat No. 7 Texas A&M 67-64 on Tuesday night at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

No. 13 – Deandre Ayton – was the Arizona’s Big One in scoring 13 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Arizona’s other Big One – Allonzo Trier – struggled to score, but that’s when Dylan Smith, Dusan Ristic and Brandon Randolph all played a part in the win.

“Guys stepped up,” Ayton said.

Thirteen, 13 and 13 points each from the aforementioned players. And unranked Arizona (6-3) NEEDED everyone one of them.

“It wasn’t (Trier’s) night; he was 2 for 7 and 1 for 6 from three (distance) and we were still able to win, which is great,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “On different nights on the course of a season it isn’t always going to be Deandre for 25 (points) (and) Allonzo at 24 (points). Balance is going to seep in.”

If this is how it’ll look – even as disjointed as it did at times – Miller & Co., will take it. Wasn’t it just two weeks ago Arizona struggled in the Bahamas against teams like this?

Miller would like to think that, saying his team’s progress will get there whether it will be fast or slow. But, the opponent has something to do with it, too. NC State, Southern Methodist and Purdue are all good, he said. And to borrow a Miller phrase Arizona is still a work in progress.

Dylan Smith had a career-high 13 points as an Arizona player in the Wildcats’ win over Texas A&M (ESPN screen shot)

Miller went a step further to clarify what he said last week after UA beat up on Long Beach State in what seemed like a 24-minute rant about his team, saying that he wasn’t sure it could “bring it, can’t work, can’t really fight defensively.”

His tune and tone changed on Tuesday after Arizona got the win.

“I’m not necessarily accusing Deandre Ayton of not trying hard or (saying) Dylan Smith doesn’t care,” said Miller as he pointed to his two players on the postgame podium sitting with him. “Sometimes guys have to learn how hard you have to play.”

Miller said that even if you’re a talented team “it takes a little bit of time (to understand) what does coach really mean? The last two games have a much better understanding of what it takes to win. What it takes to win against good teams.”

He added the effort has been good and the attitudes have been great.

“We’re working really hard in practice,” Miller said. “We’ve had some games but it’s not like we’re just shooting around.”

He added later: “To be able to come here and win is a big shot.”

This from a team that was rated No. 2 to begin the season. But it’s clear every game will be a season in 2017-18. Expectations be damned.

One can’t expect Trier to score 24 points a game (his average) or have Ayton score 20 and pull down 11 rebounds a game (his averages).

Arizona will have to be good on defense more than just sometimes. And everyone else will have to step up.

Miller said Tuesday night was the team’s best defensive effort this season and it was good to see UA win away from McKale again.

“This is something you want to do to prepare your team for bigger things down the road,” Miller said. “In the meantime, I think we continue to progress from the team we were in the Bahamas.”

As Miller said, Arizona was able to learn and still get the win. In fact, Arizona and A&M were tied at 47 apiece with 8:08 left when Miller slammed his clipboard during a timeout to perhaps get his teams attention.

It worked in as much as UA didn’t fold down the stretch with its young team.

Miller said that time out – without mentioning the clipboard – said UA was able to re-center itself and stay focused. It also helped that Parker Jackson-Cartwright hit his one and only shot – a 3-pointer – to give Arizona some momentum to help in the win.

“He delivered (and) that’s experience,” Miller said. “Not letting five or six misses get in the way of a good shot. He took it with confidence and made it.”

And had Arizona leaving happy about itself.

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