Arizona Basketball

Sean Miller: “The best is yet to come” for Arizona Wildcats

If you would have switched jerseys on Saturday afternoon in Pauley Pavilion you would have swore for a second Arizona was UCLA. It ran, jammed and hit 3-pointers like nobody’s business.

The outcome was a 96-85 win to move to 18-2 overall and 7-0 in the Pac-12.

Arizona did everything UCLA is famous for this season. And UCLA scrambled. And scrambled. It was such in disarray that it was down 14, the most it’s been down all season.

Arizona out UCLAed UCLA. And it played its best game in more than two seasons: seven turnovers, nine 3-pointers, more rebounds (42-33), 19-21 from the free throw line and much, much more.

Arizona for at least 40 minutes looked like the best team in the country but temper that thought knowing all it means is UA picked up a huge win in Los Angeles to get a sweep of the LA schools for the first time since 2013-14. Yes, it’s big. To put it in perspective, UA was swept in LA 20 years ago – almost to the day – when UA went on to win the national title in 1997.

But before you start making reservations for a seat at the Final Four just 120 miles up the road, there’s still a lot of basketball left.

One thing IS certain: The Pac-12 tournament is going to rock and might be the hottest ticket just off The Strip.

Plan accordingly.

Here are three things – there are more – that came from Saturday’s game.

Fear the Trier

Talk about timing. Arizona’s Allonzo Trier was cleared for action just in time for UCLA and every point, minute, rebound mattered. Had he not played, Miller suggested, Arizona may not have won.

What Trier did was give UA emotional energy and add one of the better players in the conference (country?) to an already strong roster. He did what he does: got to the basket, hit deep shots and rebound. He had 12 points and seven rebounds in 27 minutes.

How long he remains on the bench as the team’s sixth man is anyone’s guess but Arizona’s bench went from skeletal to pretty darn good with one guy.

“The best is yet to come because we were operating at 60 percent of what we’d like to do … knowing he’s available we didn’t have enough time to get that right,” Miller said. “We will moving forward.”

And that’s scary for opponents.

Chance on the Rise

Not too long ago, Miller waxed poetic about his 7-footer Chance Comanche and how much he’s improved. He talked mostly about his upside. Saturday that was very apparent. I’m not saying he was the player of the game but he was impressive. And – now – I see what Miller is talking about. Chance had a nice alley-oop dunk, a nice lay in for another two points and a 17-foot jumper and two more shots. If I didn’t see it before I see it now.

And he runs the court and has so much to improve on. He finished with 10 ponts.

The Freshmen aren’t Freshmen

Forget labels of yesteryear. Freshmen aren’t freshman anymore. They are strong players who can and do contribute right away.

The proof comes in Lauri Markkanen, Kobi Simmons, Rawle Alkins for Arizona. All were huge for the Wildcats. My apologies to Stanley Johnson, Ronde Hollis-Jefferson and others.

The three contributed for half of Arizona’s 96 points. They were unbelievable on the big stage, and had no stage fright.

Markkanen had 18 points (almost ho-hum for him), Alkins had 10 points (and looked good) and Simmons had 20 points. Simmons played like a man possessed in the first half. In fact, I feel he may be the one most benefiting Trier’s return. He’s going to have to continue to play at a high level with Trier ready to take some of the load off on the perimeter. Expect Simmons to be more aggressive and better. Nothing makes a player better than competition.

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