By Rich Manfredi - @PhillyOwl
The No. 17 Arizona Wildcats saw their nine-game winning streak come to an end on Saturday with a narrow 80-77 loss at Colorado, but they have every reason to be confident heading forward. Big man Deandre Ayton & guard Allonzo Trier make up one the most ferocious offensive duos in the nation. Both are shooting over 52% from the field and they average a combined 40 points per game. Trier has hit a slight road bump in his last two contests, but overall the tag team has been imposing their will on opponents for weeks.
The Wildcats started the season with a 3-3 split, but Trier came out of the gates scorching; he averaged 24.5 points in those six games on 55.8% shooting. The junior from Seattle is a nightmare to defend, as he can shoot off the catch, effortlessly pull up off the dribble or penetrate the paint. He’s a complete offensive player, and that penetration ability is mainly due to his 6’5, 205-lb. frame. Sure, that’s not massive, but when you watch him drive to basket he just looks solid as a rock.
Trier was averaging 14.3 shots per game in those first six, so it was odd to see Arizona’s winning streak (which included wins over No. 7 Texas A&M and No. 3 Arizona State) coincide with a decrease in his shot volume where Trier took only 9.7 shots per game during that span. The aforementioned cold streak has only lasted two games thus far, but it’s been noticeable nonetheless. He is just 5-for-14 in his past two, including 2-for-8 from 3-point range.
With just seven and eight points respectively in those games, the diagnosis for the scoring decrease may be that Trier isn’t getting to the line. He took just three free throws Thursday at Utah, and failed to get to the charity stripe even once in the loss to Colorado.
Wildcat fans have two things to reassure them: A) Trier has been a beast otherwise, and B) they have a certified monster down low to pick up the slack.
Deandre Ayton has been a revelation as a freshman. The 7’1, 250-lb power forward could pass for 7’3/275, but maybe it just seems that way because of his sheer power in the paint. Very few players can match up with Ayton, who can score with either hand and grab rebounds with the best of them. He’s currently 4th in the nation in rebounds per game.
Shooting 62.5% from the floor, Ayton is in elite company offensively. Of all players who’ve taken 150 shots or more, Ayton trails only three players in field goal percentage: UNC-Wilmington’s Devonate Cacok (63.5% on 167), Marshall’s Adjin Penava (63.2% on 152) and Duke’s Marvin Bagley III (63% on 192). It’s impossible not to think of Philadelphia 76ers phenom Joel Embiid while watching Ayton because like Embiid, Ayton complements his ability to post up with a nice mid-range jumper that he is not afraid to take. Another comparison is their shared penchant for shot blocking where Ayton averages 1.6 blocks per game.
Ayton came to play in Arizona’s biggest win, the defeat of third-ranked Arizona State. He posted a 23 point/19 rebound/3 block line and just wouldn’t be denied, going 9-for-14 from the field. He’s only failed to score double-digit points in one game, and has a double-double in 11 of 16 games.
The Colorado loss knocked Arizona down from #14 to #17, but they already have the two previously mentioned Top 25 wins. Trier will find his way back to his early season form, and at just 19 years old, Ayton already has plenty of swagger to go with a skill set that’ll only continue to mature and improve. He is a lock to be a lottery pick if he declares for the NBA Draft, and there’s a chance Arizona has the #1 overall pick on their hands. They need to capitalize on having this fearsome duo on the court while it lasts.
Rich probably loves the NFL too much, the NHL too little, and the NBA/MLB just the right amount.