Allonzo Trier’s Return Makes Freshman-Heavy Arizona Even More Dangerous

    Freshmen carried Arizona while Allonzo Trier served his suspension. Now that he's back, the Wildcats are one of the most formidable teams in the country.

    January 24, 2017

    Freshmen carried Arizona while Allonzo Trier served his suspension. Now that he’s back, the Wildcats are one of the most formidable teams in the country.


    Start your list of top freshmen in the nation, and see how long it takes to mention Lauri Markkanen, the sweet-shooting 7-footer averaging 17.1 points per game.

    Or Kobi Simmons, a 6-foot-5 guard coming off the best game of his short career. Or even Rawle Alkins, a former 5-star prospect oozing talent.

    Maybe it’s something as simple as a common East Coast bias, or the fact that schools like Duke and Kentucky are more synonymous with freshman superstars. But the aforementioned standouts are the leading scorers for Arizona, which happens to be the No. 7 team in the AP Top 25 – and maybe the nation’s most underrated program at that.

    That shouldn’t be the case for long, though. The Wildcats have recovered from a November that hit them pretty hard, when Allonzo Trier mysteriously continued to sit out and Ray Smith, a former highly touted prospect who never suited up in the regular season, was forced to retire following a third ACL tear.

    The recovery is mainly due to sterling contributions from the freshman class coach Sean Miller brought in as he tries to reach his first Final Four. Arizona heads into Thursday’s matchup with Washington State at 18-2 overall and tied with Oregon atop the Pac-12 standings at 7-0 after its most impressive win of the season.

    Arizona’s Allonzo Trier. Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    Simmons netted a season-high 20 points, Markkanen had 18 and Alkins added 10 in Saturday’s 96-85 win at then-No. 3 UCLA, a game the Wildcats dominated from start to finish as they extended their winning streak to 12.

    The game’s biggest storyline, though, was the return of Trier, who revealed earlier in the week that his absence was due to a suspension for a failed PED test despite the NCAA acknowledging that he ingested the drug unknowingly. The NCAA wouldn’t allow him to compete until the substance completely left Trier’s system, and it was announced late Friday night that Trier passed a test and he had been cleared to return.

    Trier played 27 minutes off the bench and finished with 12 points, seven rebounds and four assists to help spark the Wildcats to an important victory in his season debut.

    “It means the world,” Miller said. “(It was a) very difficult situation and a thing that all of us went through. Not only him and his family, but our team and our coaches. To get that news – very unexpectedly – and watch him play, that was great.”

    Some wrote off the Wildcats with Trier out, not knowing how well the rest of the youngsters would be able to carry them. After all, Trier averaged 14.8 points as a freshman for last year’s 25-9 team and was by far Arizona’s best returning player.

    Now that he’s back, the Wildcats have proven just how dangerous they can be. Much of that is due to the experience newcomers like Markkanen, Simmons and Alkins gained having to play without a talent like Trier.

    “I just like to compete,” Simmons said. “I try to do whatever I can every game for my team to win, and we’ve been winning.”

    Miller is expecting more victories to come, especially with Trier back in the fold. The Wildcats face Washington State, Washington and Oregon State before a showdown at Oregon on Feb. 4. If they continue playing as well as they did on Saturday, a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament isn’t out of the question.

    “We have a big ceiling,” Miller said. “We played 19 games without one of our best players. Now that he’s available, it’s a big difference.”

    MORE: Steve Alford, Andy Enfield Rejuvenate UCLA-USC Basketball Rivalry

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