Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Tip-Off: Rawle Alkins leads the Wildcats into the NCAA Tournament in Boise

Posted By on Tue, Mar 13, 2018 at 5:21 PM

Arizona sophomore Rawle Alkins is averaging 13.4 points per game this season. - ARIZONA ATHLETICS
  • Arizona Athletics
  • Arizona sophomore Rawle Alkins is averaging 13.4 points per game this season.

The most wonderful weekend of the sports calendar tips off Thursday, when dozens of teams will start their three-week odyssey to win college basketball’s ultimate prize.

The teams, taking part in the annual tradition colloquially known as March Madness, will engage in all-out war for 40 minutes, with one side breathing a sigh of relief as the other weeps at a premature end of their season.

The event, which brings in an eye-popping $10 billion in sports wagers (only $3 billion of which is done legally), features a myriad of storylines, too many to count.

For the hometown Wildcats of Arizona, there’s any number of options, from the team’s run-ins with the FBI, to the health of players like Rawle Alkins and the issues that arise from trying to prepare for an unfamiliar foe in 72 hours.

The Wildcats’ quest to snap the program’s well-known 17 year Final Four drought begins at 6:40 p.m. local time Thursday in far-flung Boise.

Raging Bulls

Their quest as the fourth seed in the tournament’s South Region starts with The University of Buffalo Bulls, winners of the Mid-American Conference.

The Bulls, who are 26-8 this season, feature a high-powered offense that scores 84.8 points per game, good for eighth overall in the nation.

They feature a cast of blue-collar, experienced players, with a six-man rotation that features four juniors, one senior and one sophomore.

Four Bulls average more than 10 points per game, led by junior guard CJ Massinburg, who averages an eye-popping 7.4 rebounds per game.

That stat is all the more incredible when you realize that Massinburg is all of 6-foot-3-inches tall and 194 pounds.

Massinburg, who hails from the Dallas, Texas area originally, is the driving force and heartbeat for Coach Nate Oats’ squad—dictating the pace of both the team’s offensive and defensive schemes.

Continue reading »

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Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Tip-Off: Fear and Loathing on the Hardwood of Las Vegas

Posted By on Wed, Mar 7, 2018 at 8:38 AM

Freshman Deandre Ayton was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year on Monday. The 7-foot-1-inch center is averaging 19.9 points per game and 11.4 rebounds this season. - ARIZONA ATHLETICS
  • Arizona Athletics
  • Freshman Deandre Ayton was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year on Monday. The 7-foot-1-inch center is averaging 19.9 points per game and 11.4 rebounds this season.

Welcome to the most wonderful time of the year, ladies and gents, when the glitz and glamour of commercialism and college athletics collide, in a jumbled free-for-all with pride and postseason dreams on the line.

This smorgasbord of excess that I'm referring to is the month-long tradition of March Madness™—and the stomach-splitting drama that is the Pac-12 Tournament.

This year's Iliad will once again take place in the gilded palace that Phil Anschutz and greed built on The Strip, in Las Vegas' T-Mobile Arena.

There's no shortage of storylines in this year's tournament, from Arizona's year of FBI-and-internal-driven drama to UCLA's triumph over hubris (See, their China trip) and Utah's meteoric rise in the season's latter half.

The net result of this myriad of storylines is a wide-open conference tournament that anyone can win, and a week that's sure to feature equal parts debauchery off the court and delirious entertainment on it.

Without further adieu, here's my preview of this week's tournament in, as Bill Walton calls it, "The Conference of Champions."

Opening Round Games: (Wednesday)

Colorado vs. ASU/Stanford vs. Cal/Oregon vs. Washington State/Washington vs. Oregon State

Most of these games should be blowouts, with Stanford playing a mediocre Cal team and Oregon playing an overmatched Washington State squad.

The other two matchups, in Colorado-ASU and Washington-Oregon State more than make up for the dearth of entertainment, however.

In the former, we'll see the enigmatic bundle of neurosis and unrelenting cursing that is ASU Coach Bobby Hurley, whose team went from 12-0 and on top of the world in the non-conference season to 20-10 and on the verge of missing the NCAA Tournament some 67 days later.

The Devils, thanks to an offense that lives (and dies) at the three-point line, have gone from the sweethearts of the nation, with wins over top-10 teams like Xavier (in Vegas) and Kansas (in Lawrence).

It's hard to remember that the Devils, entering their conference opener in Tucson, were ranked third in the AP top-25, and on top of the basketball world.

They'll have to channel the style of play best characterized as organized chaos to advance past a pesky CU squad that features a three-headed offensive tour de force, in McKinley Wright IV, George King and Namon Wright.

Those three Buffs have combined to score 37.1 points per game this season, and will test ASU's defense all game long.

The Devis' fate on Wednesday will likely come down to the play of senior guards Tra Holder and Shannon Evans II—who looked unstoppable during the team's early season success, and unorganized during their late season slide.

Elsewhere, the matchup of Pac-12 Coach of the Year Mike Hopkins' Washington squad and Oregon State will be a sneaky good game to watch.

The Huskies, behind Hopkins' stifling matchup zone defense and do-it-all freshman guard Jaylen Nowell, who is averaging 16.2 PPG as a freshman, are on the verge of clinching a spot in the Big Dance.

It'd be huge for them to do so, as the Huskies haven't made it to the NCAA Tournament since 2011.

They'll need to find a way to contain an enigmatic, but explosive at times Oregon State squad, that features a core-four of Tres Tinkle, Drew Eubanks, Stephen Thompson Jr. and Ethan Thompson.

Those four players, who will likely power the Beavers in years to come, have looked downright dominant at times this season—averaging a combined 57.2 points per game this season.

Keep an eye on the Wednesday games, all of which will be shown on the Pac-12 Network, as they'll feature some spectacular action.

Quarterfinals (Thursday)

Arizona vs. ASU or Colorado/UCLA vs. Stanford or Cal/USC vs. Washington or Oregon State/Utah vs. Oregon or Washington State

Here's where the plot thickens like a set of arteries after a night at the all-you-can-eat buffet at the MGM.

There are so many possible storylines in this round of the tournament that it'd be nearly impossible to sum them all up in this space, but I'll do my best.

Arizona vs. Colorado or ASU

First, the potential rematch of Arizona vs. Colorado or ASU would be must-see television, given how the team fared against both opponents.

It's difficult to harken back to the 'Cats 80-77 loss at the hands of the Buffs in Boulder on Jan. 6, but it was one to forget.

That matchup, the first of four conference L's for Coach Sean Miller and company, saw the Wildcats fall behind by 20 points in the first half, and 16 at the half, before a furious comeback attempt that fell just short.

The Wildcats got a measure of revenge against Tad Boyle's team 19 days later—with an 80-71 win in Tucson over the Buffs, thanks to an unreal 22-for-23 effort at the free throw line.

The Wildcats' had a similarly-spectacular season series against their rivals in Tempe, winning both games—84-78 and 77-70.

The reason for Arizona's success in those games, which would be subsequently replicated, was hedging over on-ball screens, preventing the Devils' from having any uncontested three-pointers.

That tactic was especially successful against the Devils, given their lack of interior height (their center is 6-foot-10).

It's important to remember that teams generally step under screens, in fear of surrendering rebounds inside—which isn't much of a worry when you have two seven-foot starters, as Arizona does.

UCLA vs. Stanford

The other quarterfinal matchups present interesting storylines as well, with UCLA's shoot first and don't ask questions offense likely running into the defense-first buzzsaw that Jarod Haase's Stanford teams pride themselves on.

How will the Bruins slow down Stanford's two-man juggernaut of forward Reid Travis and guard Dorian Pickens, who average 19.6 and 14.7 points per game, respectively?

How will the Bruins' fare against the duo in their third matchup, after surrendering 18 and 11 points to Travis, and 26 and 16 points to Pickens in their two games this year.

It'll be interesting to see how the Bruins' look offensively, with first-team All-Conference guard Aaron Holiday scoring 31 and 21 points apiece against the Cardinal this season.

This could be the game of the day, with two teams in desperate need of deep runs in Vegas to have a realistic shot at making the 68-team NCAA Tournament.

Utah vs. Oregon

There's also the likely matchup of Utah, which enters the tournament having won six of its last seven games, and an underrated Oregon squad that's hitting its stride at the right time.

It'll be interesting to see if the Utes, who beat Oregon by 10, 66-56, in their lone meeting this season, can keep their recent mojo alive against Dana Altman's team.

One matchup to keep an eye on between the Utes and Ducks would be at guard, where Utah's 5-foot-8-inch wonder Justin Bibbins and three-point extraordinaire Payton Pritchard of Oregon will square off.

This matchup is interesting, not just because of the six-inch height differential, but also because the two are the lifeblood of their team's offenses.

It's no surprise that Pritchard had one of his worst games against the Utes, scoring 7 points on 2-for-10 shooting. Bibbins, meanwhile, was red-hot against the Ducks, scoring 19 points on 7-of-11 shots, the second of what would be 11-straight games scoring at least 10 points for Bibbins.

USC vs. Washington or Oregon State

I'm not even going to try to predict which team will win the first round fistfight that is OSU and Washington, so I'll just breakdown a potential matchup for each team.

For USC, it's been a season of lofty expectations (they were picked to finish second in the preseason conference poll), and inconsistent play.

The Trojans did, indeed, finish second in the conference, going 12-6, despite losing junior forward Bennie Boatwright going down for the season to a knee injury.

His injury, which derailed a promising junior season for the Mission Hills native, hasn't really slowed down the Trojans, going 3-1 since his injury against Oregon.

Their lone loss during that stretch was perhaps the most damaging, both résumé-and-psyche-wise, falling to crosstown rival UCLA, 83-72, on the Trojans' home court.

It'll be interesting to see how Andy Enfield's Trojans squad fares against either opponent, with a Washington squad that can force you into making dumb passes and taking bad shots.

The same goes for an Oregon State squad that drags you into a 40-minute rock fight with its brand of defense-first basketball.

Both teams have fared well on the defensive side of the ball, with OSU ranking second in the conference in points allowed (70.8), while Washington is first in steals per game (8.1).

It'll be interesting to see how the Trojans, who rank second in the Pac-12 in turnover margin, at +2.9, fare against either team come Thursday.

Semifinals (Friday)

[Likely Matchup] Arizona vs. UCLA (7 p.m., Fox Sports 1)

Here's where I put on my Nostradamus outfit and try my hand at predicting how things will fare in the Sin City.

I think that Arizona should be able to out-muscle Arizona State and/or Colorado, and don't see the Bruins stumbling against Stanford.

The two played in one of the best games of the conference season in their lone tilt this year, with UCLA knocking off Arizona, 82-74, at McKale—the Wildcats lone home loss this season.

That game saw UCLA make an unreal number of deep shots early, including Jaylen Hands' buzzer-beating three at the end of the first half.

The Bruins made 11 threes in total against the Wildcats, with all five of their starters scoring more than 10 points in the victory.

Arizona also had an uncharacteristically shaky performance from Ayton, who made 7-of-19 shots from the floor, feeding into the Bruins' surge in confidence.

The matchup of Ayton and Bruins' senior center Thomas Welsh will be fascinating, with the Redondo Beach native scoring 11 points while pulling down 8 rebounds in their win in Tucson.

It's always must-see basketball when Miller and UCLA Coach Steve Alford square off, and this matchup is no different.

Expect a dizzying spectacle of highlight reel dunks, face-melting threes and blown defensive assignments in this semifinal matchup.

[Likely Matchup] USC vs. Oregon (9:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1)

I'm going with chalk for much of this tournament, simply because I don't see the conference "elites" (Arizona, UCLA and USC) stumbling against inferior opponents.

That trend ends with the matchup of third-seed Utah and sixth-seeded Oregon, because I think its impossible for Altman's teams to fail in March.

The Ducks, who made it to the Final Four a year ago, have coalesced around a team-wide lust for three-pointers, making 281 this season, while also maximizing their trips to the charity stripe.

Altman's team leads the conference in free throw percentage, hitting 77.7% of them this season, 1.3% higher than the next closest team (Arizona).

The Trojans, meanwhile, have found success by being good (but not great) at most facets of the game—ranking in the top-five in a number of categories.

The Men of Troy rank first in assists, and top-five in points scored, points allowed, scoring margin, field goal percentage, three-point shooting, defensive rebounding and blocked shots.

Finals (Saturday)

[Likely Matchup] Arizona vs. Oregon (8 p.m., Fox Sports 1)

Like I said before, I'm not dumb enough to go against Altman in March. The Ducks might be the six-seed in Vegas, but have more than enough firepower to make it to Saturday's finale.

Oregon and Arizona played two memorable games this season, with Arizona beating the Ducks, 90-83, in Tucson. Oregon got revenge in Eugene, however, beating the Wildcats 98-93 in overtime.

The two have fast become one of the best rivalries west of the Mississippi, and should provide a spectacle equal to last year's 83-80 triumph in last year's title game, their first conference tournament crown since 2002.

Both teams should be fully healthy come Saturday, and that's extra reason to watch. Can the Wildcats' tower of power, in Dusan Ristic and Ayton, overcome the Ducks' speed and shooting touch? Can the Wildcats slow down the Ducks long enough to pull away with their second-consecutive title?

Tune in well after dark on Saturday night to find out. What happens in Vegas, on the basketball court, is sure to not stay there.

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Thursday, March 1, 2018

Sean Miller Denies ESPN Report on $100,000 Discussion

Posted By on Thu, Mar 1, 2018 at 1:56 PM

Miller at the press conference. - CHRISTOPHER BOAN
  • Christopher Boan
  • Miller at the press conference.

University of Arizona basketball coach Sean Miller addressed the media for the first time since last Friday's explosive ESPN article which claimed that the ninth-year coach discussed a $100,000 payment to now-freshman center Deandre Ayton.

Miller’s statement, which he gave during a press conference at Arizona’s McKale Center, relays that he intends to fight the allegations, saying he’ll coach the team’s final regular season games, against Stanford tonight and Cal on Saturday.

A fiery Miller called the allegations, “inaccurate, false and inflammatory,” saying he’s never violated NCAA rules, nor offered money to a player in his coaching career.

Miller thanked Arizona fans, as well as first-year President and Director of Athletics Robert C. Robbins and Dave Heeke.

Arizona hosts Stanford tonight at 8 p.m., with a chance at capturing at least a share of the Pac-12 conference championship with a win.

Here is Miller's complete statement:

Good afternoon. Let me begin by saying I regret all the negative attention that has been focused on our program and the difficult position that this has created for President Robbins, Dave Heeke, the Arizona family and especially our players and their families. I appreciate very much all the support I’ve received during this difficult time, thank you to everybody. While I have done nothing wrong, I am responsible for our men’s basketball program, and I am sickened that we are in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

Contrary to what has been written this past week, we do our very best to run a clean program at the University of Arizona. I have done that since the first day that I stepped on this campus. Compliance with NCAA rules is extremely important to us, and we work hard to create, maintain and monitor a culture of compliance within our program.

I have never knowingly violated NCAA rules while serving as head coach of this great program. I have never paid a recruit or prospect, or their family or representative to come to Arizona. I never have, and I never will. I have never arranged or directed payment or any improper payment to any recruit, or prospect, or their family or their representative, and I never will.

I also understand that there is an ongoing federal investigation, and because of this, I cannot do anything that could compromise the integrity of this investigation. However, on this point, I cannot remain silent in light of media reports that have impugned the reputation of me, the University, and sullied the name of a tremendous young man, Deandre Ayton.

Let me be very, very clear. I have never discussed with Christian Dawkins paying Deandre Ayton to attend the University of Arizona. In fact, I never even met or spoke to Christian Dawkins until after Deandre publically announced that he was coming to our school. Any reporting to the contrary is inaccurate, false and inflammatory.

I’m outraged by the media statements that have been made, and the acceptance by many that these statements were true. There was no such conversation. These statements have damaged me, my family, the university, Deandre Ayton and his incredible family. The only attempted corrections by the original source of the media statements are still inaccurate and completely false.

I also want you to know that the one time that someone suggested to me paying a player to come to the University of Arizona, I did not agree to it. It never happened, and that player did not come to the University of Arizona.

Out of respect for this ongoing investigation, the privacy of the student athlete and his family, I’m not going to share more details concerning this matter.

I appreciate more than anyone can realize Dr. Robbins and the university carefully considering this matter and acting upon facts. I have been completely open and transparent, and I look forward to coaching this outstanding team as we seek to capture a Pac-12 regular season championship this week.

I now intend to turn my focus to basketball, and our players and this team. I once again want to express my thanks to all of those who have supported me, and this now completes my statement on this matter.

The Tip-Off: Deandre Ayton and Arizona Welcome Stanford Amidst FBI Hoopla

Posted By on Thu, Mar 1, 2018 at 12:15 PM

Deandre Ayton is averaging 19.9 points and 11.2 rebounds as a freshman. - ARIZONA ATHLETICS
  • Arizona Athletics
  • Deandre Ayton is averaging 19.9 points and 11.2 rebounds as a freshman.
It’s a brave new world for members of the Arizona basketball team, who take the stage at McKale Center for the first time since the latest FBI-related saga hit the program.

That saga, involving an alleged discussion between Coach Sean Miller and disgraced sports agent Christian Dawkins about a $100,000 payment to land Deandre Ayton, is far from resolved.

It’s also far from verified, with ESPN issuing a series of corrections to the report, including the alleged date and year the conversation occurred.

This column isn’t about those allegations, however, for we’re here today to talk about the actual sport of basketball, not the soap opera around it.

What we do know is that Ayton, who is virtual lock to be a lottery pick in next year’s NBA Draft, is averaging a team-best 19.9 points per game and 11.2 rebounds this season.

We also know that the matchup of Ayton and do-it-all Cardinal forward Reid Travis will be must-see TV, based solely on how the two played in their previous matchup this season.

In that showdown, which the Wildcats won, 73-71, Travis outplayed the Bahaman big man, scoring 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting, while pulling down 10 rebounds, to Ayton’s eight.

Ayton, meanwhile, had one of his worst showings in his short collegiate tenure, scoring nine points, while shooting 40 percent (4/10) from the field.

Cardinal sins

Fast-forward 40 days and a myriad of changes have occurred, from Allonzo Trier’s indefinite suspension for a failed drug test to Miller’s sudden persona non-grata status.

What we do know is that the Cardinal (16-13, 10-6) will push Arizona to its limits, given their previous matchup, which saw the Wildcats’ jump out to an 11-point lead, before holding on for dear life at the end.

That victory, capped off by a go-ahead layup by sophomore guard Rawle Alkins with 38 seconds remaining, put a temporary pep in the Wildcats’ step, moving them to 6-1 in conference play.

They’ve gone 6-2 since, a feat all the more spectacular when considering the whirlwind of controversy that the program’s overcome this season.

The Wildcats (22-7, 12-4) can ensure at least a share of the Pac-12 regular season championship with a victory tonight and can clinch it outright with wins against Stanford and Cal on Saturday.

They currently lead Southern California by a half-game, with the tie-breaking advantage of beating the Trojans in their lone matchup this season.

One-sided series

The Wildcats have beaten the Cardinal 16 times in a row, dating back to 2009, and lead the all-time series 64-26.

A key tonight will be whether the Wildcats can start off hot and stay out of foul trouble, given the bipolar play that they’ve shown all season.

There’s still no word on whether Miller will be on the sideline tonight, or what the future holds for the program, two weeks ahead of the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Arizona looked great for 20-plus minutes in Eugene last Saturday and shot an eye-popping 57.6 percent from the field against the Ducks.

The issue, however, was the team’s inability to hold onto the ball, committing 17 turnovers, to Oregon’s four.

Arizona will need better ball handling as a whole to win against the Cardinal, with extra impetus placed on guard Dylan Smith, who turned the ball over six times against the Ducks.

Smith, who’s been thrust into the lineup in place of Trier, has a mediocre 1.2-1.1 assist-to-turnover ratio this season, and has shot a miserable 37.9 percent from the floor in his first season in Tucson.

The team’s success starts and ends in the hands of the University of North Carolina-Asheville transfer. We’ll see how he handles himself in primetime tonight.

How to Watch: Arizona plays Stanford at 8 p.m. tonight, with Fox Sports 1 carrying the game.

How to Bet: Arizona is an 11.5-point favorite to win tonight’s game.

Who to Watch: Stanford is led offensively by junior forward Reid Travis, who averages 19.3 points per game. Three other Cardinal players average double figures, in Dorian Pickens (14.6), Michael Humphrey (10.8) and Daejon Davis (10.7).

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Saturday, February 24, 2018

ESPN: Miller Discussed $100K Payment To Recruit Player

Posted By on Sat, Feb 24, 2018 at 12:12 PM

Sean Miller faces new allegations. - LOGAN BURTCH-BUUS | TUCSON LOCAL MEDIA
  • Logan Burtch-Buus | Tucson Local Media
  • Sean Miller faces new allegations.
A battered Arizona men’s basketball program took another hit Friday, when a bombshell report hit.

The ESPN report alleges that Coach Sean Miller discussed paying $100,000 to recruit seven-foot freshman Deandre Ayton.

The discussion, according to the report, was picked up by an FBI wiretap of former sports agent Christian Dawkins, a main source in the FBI’s investigation.

The FBI collected more than 3,000 hours of conversation between the former ASM agent and various subjects, according to the report, including Miller’s discussions.

Ayton, who’s averaging 19.6 points per game and 10.9 rebounds this season, was among the highest-rated prospects in the Class of 2017, highlighting Miller’s recruiting efforts.

The University, as of noon Saturday, has yet to say whether Miller or any players and assistants will be suspended or terminated.

The team is 22-6 this season, with a one-and-a-half game lead atop the Pac-12 conference standings. They play Oregon at 8:15 p.m. tonight.

According to ESPN, Miller’s contract has a buyout package that would cost $10.3 million to fire him for cause.

Oddly enough, Miller’s buyout would only be $5.15 million, should they fire him without cause, according to ESPN’s Darren Rovell.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Tip-Off: Dusan Ristic and Arizona in for a Dam Good Time Against the Oregon State Beavers

Posted By on Wed, Feb 21, 2018 at 11:28 AM

Senior center Dusan Ristic dunks on Utah's David Collette in a January game. - ARIZONA ATHLETICS
  • Arizona Athletics
  • Senior center Dusan Ristic dunks on Utah's David Collette in a January game.

Sean Miller knows full well the horrors that await any team that sleepwalks into the cavernous confines of Gill Coliseum in Corvallis, Oregon.

That’s because Miller has been on the wrong side of the matchup in the Willamette three times since 2010, most recently in 2015, when the then-seventh ranked Wildcats met a Beaver buzz saw, falling 58-56, after former guard (and Philadelphia 76ers legend) T.J. McConnell missed a game-tying jump shot at the buzzer.

The Wildcats (21-6, 11-3) achieved some sort of redemption last year, trampling the semiaquatic rodent (and official state animal of Oregon) 71-54.

Fast-forward 385 days, and the two species will do battle at Gill once again, with the Wildcats looking for a third-consecutive victory.

A win on Thursday would also give Miller and company some breathing room atop the Pac-12 standings, with a current 1.5-game lead over UCLA and USC.

Miller knows that Thursday’s battle in Corvallis, which tips off at 7 p.m. Arizona time, will test the team’s resolve, in the first part of the team’s final road trip of the season.

“[Oregon State’s] a very physical team. They’re a team that takes a lot of pride in their defense, their half-court defense,” Miller said in his weekly press conference. “They do it by playing a lot of zone, not all zone, even when they’re man-to-man, they’re very physical.”

Miller highlighted the unenviable task of slowing down a pair of Beavers that have torched defenses this season: Forwards Tres Tinkle and Drew Eubanks, who average 18.1 and 12.9 points per game this season, respectively.

“I think Drew Eubanks is one of the most underappreciated, or underrated players in our conference,” Miller said. “He’s very good. He’s a great shot blocker. Part of Oregon State’s physicality really is him. He’s rugged, and he does it on defense and offense.”

Eubanks struggled in the team’s first meeting, scoring 8 points on 4-of-13 shooting, in a 62-53 slugfest that Arizona ultimately won at McKale.

Miller knows that his team will have to play significantly better against the Beavers, who enter Thursday’s game on a two-game slide, in order to pick up their 22nd win of the season.

“The first game, we did not generate enough good shots,” Miller said. “That had a lot to do with their defense, we had large segments of that game where we didn’t play exceptionally well. And I think that had a lot to do with it. And we’re going to have to be better this time around, for sure.”

Winning time

This week’s Beaver State road trip (yes, that’s actually the Oregon’s official state nickname), is of paramount importance to players and coaches alike, said senior center Dusan Ristic.
The Serbian big man, who had eight points and eight rebounds against the Beavers in Tucson, expects a nightlong battle in Corvallis.

“Obviously, the Oregon schools are really good, even though their record isn’t that good, they have talented players,” Ristic said. “They play well. They have a few bad losses, but they’re good teams. Both of them.”

Ristic, who’s having a career year, in terms of points (11.9), rebounds (7.1) and field goal percentage (58.8 percent), is locked in to preparing for this week’s matchups against the Beavers and Ducks.

“Right now, our focus is on the Oregon trip,” Ristic said. “I think this is arguably one of the most important trips for the season for us. I think if we win both games, we’re going to put ourselves in a really good position to win the Pac-12 after these two games, so that’s our main focus.”

The 7-foot center from Novi Sad says his focus is on doing whatever it takes to get Arizona into the NCAA Tournament, and perhaps into the Final Four for the first time since 2001.

Doing so, he said, would put a cherry on top of what’s been a memorable four years in Tucson for the soft-spoken big man.

“We have a lot of goals to achieve,” Ristic said. “Even though we have four games left in the Pac-12, our goals are much bigger than only the Pac-12 itself. I think our goals for this year are just winning in March, going to the Final Four, and winning the National Championship. And if this team can do that then I will say that my goals will be 100 percent achieved here.”

How to Watch:
Arizona plays Oregon State at 7 p.m. Arizona time, with Fox Sports 1 airing the game.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Tip Off: Rawle Alkins leads Arizona into Tempe to play Tra Holder and Arizona State

Posted By on Wed, Feb 14, 2018 at 11:42 AM

Rawle Alkins is averaging 13.6 points per game and 4.1 rebounds per game for Arizona this season. - ARIZONA ATHLETICS
  • Arizona Athletics
  • Rawle Alkins is averaging 13.6 points per game and 4.1 rebounds per game for Arizona this season.
Welcome to the week where full of good, old-fashioned hate sweeps across our state like a wayward Haboob racing across the parched desert.

I'm talking, of course, about the biannual throw-down on the hard wood between our state's largest institutions of higher knowledge—The University of Arizona and Arizona State University.

The rivalry (which really hasn't been much of a contest over the years), has seen the Wildcats on the winning end in 15 of the last 20 matchups—including five straight since 2016.

The first clash between the two went the way of the Wildcats, with Sean Miller's squad narrowly escaping a home court defeat, 84-78, over the then-third ranked Sun Devils.

Arizona's victory in the Dec. 30 matchup stemmed largely from ASU's inability to hit the broadside of a barn offensively, shooting a dismal 37.9 percent from the field (and 32 percent from three-point territory) in the contest.

The Sun Devils' performance in that game looks even ghastlier when you remove do-it-all point guard Tra Holder from the equation. Holder, who has been one of the best scorers in the nation this season, pummeled the Wildcats' defense, to the tune of 31 points in the late December showdown.

Holder, who leads the Sun Devils offensively, with 19.3 points per game, has been red-hot in ASU's last five games, scoring 20 or more points in four of the five contests, with 22 points in each of the team's wins over USC and UCLA last week.

Miller admitting during his weekly press conference that the Wildcats' were lucky in their first contest, saying the game's final stats reflected ASU's inability to score, rather than his team playing excellent defense.

"That's a little deceiving because you have to realize how many three-point attempts
they're taking, right?" Miller said. "...So for us, you have to be careful. Free throw attempts, three attempts are big parts of ASU's attack and the consistent effort throughout, not just in the first half but both halves and being able to get great defense from our bench in a continued effort."

Rawle Alkins' return to normalcy

A big advantage for Arizona this go-around is the relative health of sophomore guard Rawle Alkins, who missed a large portion of the season with a foot injury.

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Friday, February 9, 2018

Trouble Bruin: Arizona Smacked Down by UCLA, 82-74, at McKale Center

Posted By on Fri, Feb 9, 2018 at 11:42 AM

Senior Parker Jackson-Cartwright had 10 points and four assists in Arizona's 82-74 loss to the Bruins of UCLA on Thursday. - MONICA MILBERG | ARIZONA ATHLETICS
  • Monica Milberg | Arizona Athletics
  • Senior Parker Jackson-Cartwright had 10 points and four assists in Arizona's 82-74 loss to the Bruins of UCLA on Thursday.

Jaylen Hands sealed Arizona’s fate late in the first half of Thursday’s tilt between the mighty Bruins and the 13th-ranked Wildcats.

Hands, who entered Thursday’s game averaging 11.1 points per game for the Bruins, went on an unbelievable one-man scoring barrage in the half’s final minute.

The San Diego native nailed consecutive three-pointers, buoying what was a two-point UCLA, before hitting his magnum opus in the waning seconds of the half.

The shot, which figuratively ripped the Wildcats’ hearts out in front of 14,644 fanatics, was a step-back, off-balance heave from 25-feet away.

An outstretched Parker Jackson-Cartwright tried, in vain, to stop Hands’ shot—stretching his 5-foot-11-inch frame to distract the lanky freshman.

His efforts were futile, as Hands’ shot was pure, giving the Bruins’ a 10-point edge at the half—44-34.

Things would only get worse for the Wildcats in the latter half, surrendering 14 field goals and five threes to the visiting Bruins, sealing an eight-point loss—the first suffered by Arizona inside the hallowed McKale Center this season.

Defensive Woes

The loss seemed to baffle longtime Arizona Coach Sean Miller, whose 1,000-mile stare and low-pitched whisper postgame told volumes about the night’s outcome.

“And you know that cushion at the break, 44-34, you know, to me, we struggled,” Miller said. “We didn't have our confidence from that point on. We're really playing catch up. But UCLA's offense was too good for our defense.”

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