Deandre Ayton was in McKale Center Thursday night. He looked fit and ready to go.
And, oh by the way, Arizona (10-4, 1-0) didn’t need him. In fact, Arizona looked the part of a very good basketball team in the first half without the services of Ayton, last season’s star-in-the-making. Colorado felt the pain, falling down 39-24 in the opening half to eventually fall 64-56 in the two team’s Pac-12 debut.
Arizona’s spark came from a much-needed-but-unlikely source in freshman Devonaire Doutrive, who came in and provided the oomph Arizona needed to get some distance from the Buffaloes in the first half.
A basket here, a basket there, a rebound there and another here.
“As we’ve watched him grow in practice I thought there would be a period of time where he can become important to our team,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said, “because his style is so much different than everybody else.”
Doutrive is an offensive rebounder and a tremendous athlete, Miller added. And sure Doutrive wasn’t perfect given he had three turnovers, but he was the spark Arizona needed.
“He’s clever,” Miller said. “He understands when to pass and when not to. I was really excited to see it because that’s how things are supposed to go.”f
“I’m just ready whenever my number’s called,” Doutrive said. “I feel confident out there.”
Clearly, Doutrive doesn’t lack for confidence. Miller said that about two-three weeks ago. Thursday it showed. Clearly, as Miller stated, Doutrive makes UA “a deeper team.”
It especially helped Arizona avoid an upset on Day One of the Pac-12 season. Heck, Pac-12 favorite – yes, Arizona State had turned into that in the last two months – couldn’t manage to win at home against Utah on Thursday.
It proves that every game matters in the downtrodden Pac-12 and Thursday was one of those days for UA, where the first half looked superb … and the second half, well, didn’t.
Miller called the first 20 minutes “among our best basketball of the year” as it moved the ball well against the zone (imagine that) and it played well offensively and defensively.
“It made us feel really good at the half,” Miller said even without the complete services of Justin Coleman who suffered a dislocated shoulder earlier in the week. He did not start the game and only played three minutes.
But as has been the case with Arizona, it failed to equal its performance of the first half, getting outscored 32-25 by Colorado.
“Colorado deserves some credit but we had some headscratchers throughout the second 20 minutes.” Miller said.
Miller went as far as saying his team went from playing its “best ball to our worst ball” in a matter of moments. And that’s saying a lot given what’s gone on this season.
Still, Arizona was good enough to get the win.
“I was happy that we could get the win, talk about it and learn from it,” Miller said. “We can move on to Utah on Saturday.”
What it all proved is that the Pac-12 race is going to be a crazy one. But who didn’t know that?
“It’s up for grabs,” Brandon Williams said. “I think everybody sees that. We’ve got to be ready every game.”
Miller said he hopes Coleman will be ready to play more on Saturday afternoon against the Utes and grow his role to what it was.
Thursday night, Arizona – surprisingly – didn’t need his services in part because everyone contributed to Arizona’s surprisingly good win … despite the second half issues. Heck, Ira Lee contributed five points and three rebounds. Um, and no turnovers. Call that a win-win-win.
Williams filled in at the point guard and looked admirable, despite his 6 for 17 shooting. He did lead UA with 14 points and six assists and just two turnovers. Brandon Randolph had 11 points on 4 for 8 shooting.
It was a collective team effort – just like old times.
“Usually when you only have 11 turnovers in a 40 minute game,” Miller said, “that’s pretty good.”
And that would have been good with – and definitely was without – Ayton, who was in town to receive his honor into Arizona’s Ring of Honor.
“That’s the gift of him playing in Phoenix (with the Suns) and he can get in a car (and get to Tucson easily),” Miller said. “He was in our locker room and was ready to play in tonight’s game.”
It was a night, Arizona didn’t need him.