TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) Don’t think ”Hack-an-Ayton” is a good strategy against Arizona’s fantastic freshman.
Even though he was just coming off a bout of strep throat that caused him to miss some practice time, Deandre Ayton was 12 for 12 at the line, scoring 20 points to help the No. 11 Wildcats beat Colorado 80-71 on Thursday night, avenging their only Pac-12 loss of the season.
”There’s a lot of things that separate Deandre from a lot of big guys that he’s compared to,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. ”He is an excellent free throw shooter and he has unbelievable agility away from the basket.”
And the muscular 7-foot-1 freshman had plenty of help.
Allonzo Trier played what coach Sean Miller called ”one of his best games he’s played at Arizona.”
”I think when you looked at the points that he scored – 23, not one turnover,” Miller said. ”They trapped him on every pick-and-roll that he utilized and he was very, very efficient. …. He was an All-American type of player.
The Wildcats (17-4, 7-1 Pac-12) lost 80-77 at Colorado on Jan. 6 but have won five straight since.
”We’re not that better than a lot of the teams in our conference but we’ve been able to make some timely plays and finish games,” Miller said. ”It’s up to us to continue to grow so we keep getting better.”
Dusan Ristic added 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting for Arizona.
”Arizona, when they play well, especially in the second half offensively, they were like a juggernaut,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle said.
The difference, Boyle noted, was at the foul line. Colorado was 5 of 8, Arizona 22 of 23.
George King scored 22 points, including 4 of 5 3-pointers for Colorado (12-9, 4-5). McKinley Wright added 15.
The Wildcats lost in Boulder 80-77 on Jan. 6.
They were cold Thursday in a first half a first half that ended in a 30-30 deadlock. But Arizona opened the second half with a 15-4 run, ignited by Dylan Smith’s 3-pointer, to go up 45-34 on Ristic’s 16-footer with 15-3 left. The Wildcats stretched it to 53-42 when Ristic made a strong spin move for a layup with 12:41 to play. Colorado coach Tad Boyle drew a technical during the run.
Boyle doesn’t like to play zone defense but it worked in Boulder so the Buffs were using it again Tuesday and it worked for most of the first 20 minutes. Not so much in the second, when Arizona made 16 of 23 shots, just under 70 percent.
”Their zone was pretty good and I think we answered much better than we did in Colorado,” Ristic said. ”So we made progress there.”
The Buffaloes scored the game’s first eight points and were up 14-4 early.
Arizona, with increasing success in getting the ball to the 7-foot-1 Ayton, slowly caught up and took its only lead of the half 28-26 with 1:18 left. Lazar Nikolic and McKinley Wright each scored to put the Buffs back on top 30-28 before Ristic’s 16-footer at the buzzer tied it at 30-30 at the break.
The Buffaloes gave Arizona a tough fight but couldn’t overcome the Wildcats’ size and athleticism. With the steady King, Colorado always will be a threat through the remainder of conference play, though, but seems destined for a middle-of-the-pack finish.
The Wildcats had a hard time getting the ball to Ayton but persistence paid off with repeated trips to the foul line. With steady Rustic at his side, it’s a formidable front line for anyone as the big freshman works his way through the final half of his only college season.
Arizona wingman Rawle Alkins didn’t play for the second time in three games due to soreness in his surgically-repaired foot. He sat out last week’s Stanford game but played 34 minutes at Cal last Saturday. He felt a little soreness after that game so it was decided he wouldn’t play Thursday. Miller said Alkins might play Saturday against Utah.
Boyle drew a technical foul during Arizona’s early second-half surge complaining about the lack of calls under the Colorado basket. But, other than that, it was a typical McKale Center game: loud, but no louder or angrier over Boyle’s postgame comment after the Buffs’ win over Arizona three weeks ago. Boyle answered ”Hell yes” when asked if that game had any extra meaning due to the FBI probe that resulted in the arrest of a then-Wildcats assistant coach.
Colorado: At Arizona State on Saturday night.
Arizona: Hosts Utah on Saturday.