Arizona Athletics

Miller says Ristic is UA’s ‘heart and soul’ and surely was on Saturday

Maybe it was a sign of things to come and something Sean Miller could finally reveal now because there’s a good chance senior Dusan Ristic is headed in the right direction of being one of the Pac-12s better players.

But every player that has gone with Miller to the Pac-12 preseason media session has made the all-conference team.

At the very least, Dusan is trending up after Saturday’s team-high 23-point performance in Arizona’s 74-73 win over Utah in McKale Center.

In talking about Ristic, Arizona coach Sean Miller said he “couldn’t say enough good things about him as a kid” and that he doesn’t talk about him nearly enough.

Ristic hits one of his nine shots (Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics).

Yet, the last few games Ristic has turned into the most-talked-about-player on the roster as well as a human highlight reel. Ten points here, 18 points there, 13 here and 12 there.

He’s fee fi fo fumming his way to the top, sprinkling basketball magic as he hopes to leave UA on a good note. On Thursday night, after a 15-point game, he said time was running out on his career here so he wants to make the best of it.

Well, the floor is yours. Hell, maybe the world or at least in Serbia is where he’s a hero there and everyone is watching.

He entered the post-game press conference by saying, “This is the best game at Arizona so far.”

“So far” would indicate he has a lot left in the 7-foot gas tank. Filler up, just like he did on Saturday afternoon where every basket was needed. He worked at near maximum efficiency, hitting 7 of 9 shots from the floor, including three 3-pointers. His last one was a 3-pointer from the heavens to make it 72-68 with 1:40 left.

When he hoisted the last three – with lots of time left on the shot clock – Miller wasn’t sure how to react. When I asked about him possibly going, “no, no, no” then saying, “yes, yes, yes” when it went in, Miller didn’t know what to think at the time, he said.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said of the shot. “I’m glad it went in for him.”

So were the 14,400 plus fans in McKale after the loud eruption.

Ristic was a key reason why Arizona pulled off the win vs. Utah (Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics)

“We’re not going to see that we need to guard him from the three on a scouting report,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak, “but it’s an example of playing in this conference and playing against great players. Great players step up when they need to, and all credit goes to him.”

Krystkowiak later called it “a defining moment in the game.”
It was that trey that pushed Ristic over the 1,000-point total for his career, becoming the 51st UA player to do so.

“I don’t even know what to say right now,” Ristic said. “It’s an amazing feeling.”

Kind of like the warm and fuzzy feeling Miller had when he was describing Ristic’s time at Arizona. He’s gone from this caterpillar to this butterfly who works his way around the rim – and beyond. And yes, it has taken time.

“You get a player like him and you always hope they develop into something special,” Miller said. “He works so hard.”

He’s the first to the gym and the last to leave, Miller said. He has sacrificed to be away from his family, Miller said, being home but a month in four years.

“He’s our team’s heart and soul in a lot of ways,” Miller said. “When we lost the three games in the Bahamas he was the one who had the tough talk. Everybody respected him because he leads by example.

“… We are all happy for him.”

While in the locker room, Ristic apparently told Miller he had 1,000 points and 500 rebounds.

“Which reminds you that these guys always have their stats in their head,” Miller said, smiling. “The fact that he got his 1,000th point on that 3-point shot is even a better story. Today was his day.”

Today? This was his ninth double-digit game in 10 games. In that span, he’s also averaged 7.4 rebounds a game.

That’s when Miller brought up his All-Conference player story about taking players and them becoming stars in the league.

When Miller told Ristic that story Miller said, Ristic had a look of “hmmm.”

“Hopefully right now and the impact that he’s had and how consistent he’s played,” Miller said, “Dusan is probably one of the top 15 players in our conference. He’s having a great senior year.”


Arizona, played without sophomore guard Rawle Alkins for the third time in four games. He continues to be bothered by a sore right foot, one he had surgery on in September. Alkins is sitting out as a precaution, but it’s not clear when he will return to the lineup.

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