Arizona coach Sean Miller joked on Thursday night – um, and he rarely jokes – that he can’t remember much about Thanksgiving. That was so long ago at a time when his team was in a three-game spiral and UA looked out of whack.
These days those are just a memory so much so that after Arizona’s 73-58 win over visiting Connecticut that senior point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright said that three-day stretch may be a “blessing in disguise.”
Who’s to disagree as No. 18 Arizona (10-3) has now reeled off seven consecutive wins before it takes a four day break for the holiday and then prepares for No. 3 Arizona State on Dec. 30.
Timing is everything in, well, everything so this is a good time for Arizona to be playing some of its best basketball – just as the Pac-12 season is about to begin.
Here are a few things to like about Arizona after its win against Connecticut.
What will happen if freshman sensation Deandre Ayton gets in foul trouble? He was doubled and tripled teamed and picked up two early fouls. He failed to get in double figures scoring for the first time this season.
“They wanted someone else to beat them,” Miller said, “and that’s what happened.”
Dusan Ristic showed he can step in quite nicely. At least for Thursday night’s game he did, hitting 6 of 9 shots and 6 of 9 free throws to pick up his second double-double of the season and fourth of his career.
“Someone had to step up when (Deandre Ayton) made his second foul in the first half,” Ristic said. “And, tonight, that was me. We’re a deep team. We have a lot of pieces.”
Arizona clearly does, but Ristic is a guy who has played in the shadows for a number of years. Thursday night he took center stage.
“I don’t talk about him enough,” Miller said. “He deserves all the credit in the world. Everyone goes home for Christmas and he goes with people he loves here. He has practiced almost 400 times at Arizona and I can’t remember one where he didn’t come in ready to practice. We would’ve been down in the first half if he didn’t play the way he did. Dusan was really good tonight, maybe (it was) his best overall game at Arizona since he has been here.”
It’s all about timing.
Rawle Alkins comes in strong
Miller almost took a double take when he looked at the score sheet after the game. He saw Rawle Alkins didn’t have a turnover in 31 minutes.
“Is that right?” Miller asked.
“That’s a big deal because he’s so aggressive. When he’s that aggressive and not turning the ball over he’s going to get fouled, find his teammates. He really took what the defense gave him.”
Alkins, in his fourth game back from an injured foot that kept him out for the start of the season, finished with a game-high 20 points, adding two steals, an assist and four rebounds.
Miller said Alkins is playing at just 80 percent – not from the injury but what he’s capable of – upon his return.
It’ll be the next stretch of games where you’ll judge Alkins.
That’s likely when “he settles into being the total player that we know who he is,” Miller said.
It’s the second game he’s had at least 20 points.
“It’s not surprising,” said teammate Parker Jackson-Cartwright. “It’s a testament to how hard he works. He got hurt and just chips away every day at his recovery and his work ethic is at an all-time high. The guy just wants to win. He takes us to a new level.”
To three or not to three?
That’s not even a question. Arizona went into the game hitting 38 percent of its 3-points. It went 9 for 19 on Thursday. It went 7 for 10 in the second half and it needed all of them given UConn wouldn’t go away. Miller said he likes what he’s seeing in that everything starts by going inside near the basket then going outside.
“A lot of our threes came off the inside catch and (kick) out,” Miller said. “… Our 19 threes – 13 or 14 of them were great looking shots. Ball movement where Deandre and Dusan are willing passers.”
Trier back and healthy
Junior Allonzo Trier was back in the lineup after getting a scare on Monday, when he sustained a bruised knee after colliding with a North Dakota State player. He missed the final 10 minutes of that game. Trier finished with 15 points Thursday.
“He wasn’t at 100 percent but he’s not at further risk (of Injury),” Miller said. “His defense down the stretch was a reason why we won.”