Arizona Basketball

Deandre Ayton: ‘A great, special player’ who saved Arizona vs. UCLA

He had no cape but Superman saved the day for No. 15 Arizona. You should know it by now why Sean Miller said Deandre Ayton looked like Superman, given his towering presence.

And, oh yes, those heroics.

What can’t the wunderkind do?

Friday night, in a game that rivaled any show on the Las Vegas Strip, Ayton was The Man … Superman, scoring 32 points and 14 rebounds in a 78-67 overtime win over UCLA in a semifinal game that was championship-game worthy here at T-Mobile Arena.

Deandrea Ayton scored a career-high 32 points in a win vs. UCLA.

“I see it every day in practice so it’s nothing new to me,” said teammate Rawle Alkins of his 7-foot-1 teammate. “You guys (just saw) what we see every day. It’s just another day at the office for him. There’s no doubt in my mind he’s in the talks of national player of the year. He should be the player of the year. I don’t see anyone playing better than him.”

That would be hard to argue.

Friday night, he was Arizona’s golden parachute in as much as he picked up misses and put them in for points. He went 13 for 16 from the floor, including 10 of 12 in the second half. He had seven of Arizona’s 11 points in overtime.

You’ll one day ask: where were you when … Ayton was the Super Man.

It’s much like when Arizona fans marveled at Brian Williams when he scored 32 points by hitting 14 of 15 shots in an overtime win over UCLA nearly 30 years ago. He pulled down 14 rebounds in a game that’s still talked about when amazing performances come to mind.

How about Khalid Reeves’ night when he missed but one shot (13-14) in scoring 40 points in a win against Michigan.

Damon Stoudamire’s career-high 45 points, including eight in overtime, to rally Arizona from an 11-point deficit to win in Palo Alto.

Loren Woods 14 blocks to go with his 16 points and 10 rebounds in a win over Oregon.

Salim Stoudamire’s 37 points vs. Washington when he set a Pac-10 Tournament record with seven treys in championship game.

Ayton’s game belongs among the top single-game performances without question.

“I was in that game when Salim Stoudamire did that,” said UA assistant coach Lorenzo Romar, who was the UW coach then. “That was pretty outstanding. …

“How (Ayton) came on in the second half and in overtime carried us offensively. If we missed he got the rebound. It was pretty spectacular.”

It was a game for ages – to go with many games of the ages in the history of Arizona’s storied program. From Mike Bibby’s heroics as a freshman to Jason Terry’s senior season to Coniel Norman’s 44 points in the mid-1970s to Ernie McCray’s school record 46 points in the 1950s, Ayton’s Friday will forever be remembered as fantastic.

For those who have watched Ayton play from the first game to the last game you can only be amazed and amused.

At what point did UA players stop being amazed at what he can do?

“Probably day one,” said teammate Parker Jackson-Cartwright. “He’s 7-feet, 260 (pounds). He makes pretty much every shot. He amazes us every day with his work ethic and how he approaches each game and each practice and knowing he’s just a kid. In the first game (Thursday) he was nervous. It showed.”

Ayton scored just 10 points and pulling down six rebounds in a season-low 25 minutes. All he had to do is review the tape to see how badly he had played, he said.

“I couldn’t play bad again,” he said. “So, I just got back to business.”

Part of the problem, Ayton said, he was overwhelmed by the magnitude and scope of T-Mobile Arena, saying it looked like an NBA arena. But Ayton said he came in for Friday’s game, “locked and loaded.”

PJC said he knew Ayton would have a big game.

“One hundred percent; he got out all those jitters,” PJC said. “Lauri (Markkanen) went through that as a freshman. Stanley (Johnson) went through that when he was a freshman. All the big-time players do when they come in. We’re on the biggest stage. He responded well.

“The way he responded today … his heart, his will and just hard he plays.”

Was there a point when he knew it would be his day?

“I wouldn’t say that,” he said. “My teammates found me in the open spots on the court. I took my time and faced up. I took what the defense gave me.”

UCLA coach Steve Alford said he thought UA did a good job of feeding Ayton in the second half.

At least it felt that way.

“He’s a great player,” said Thomas Welsh, who had to defend him at times. “He’s a really big guy. He takes up a lot of space. He presents a lot of problems down there as well. I just wanted to give him the best effort I could. He kind of got away from us, but, I mean, he’s a special player.”

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