No. 3 Arizona begins a bit short-handed
TUCSON, Ariz. -- No. 3 Arizona heads into its season opener Friday night against Northern Arizona a bit banged up but confident that it is headed in the right direction.
Sean Miller's team is working through various injuries to start the year, including a concussion for projected starting wing Brandon Randolph, a freshman who suffered the injury in practice after the team's first exhibition game last week. The Wildcats also continue to be without sophomore wing Rawle Alkins, who is out while he recovers from surgery to repair a broken foot.
Redshirt sophomore Dylan Smith, who transferred from UNC Asheville prior to last season, will finish out what has amounted to a three-game suspension for a violation of team rules.
Good news for Arizona is that it still has depth to cover those absences as it opens the season Friday night at McKale Center against Northern Arizona.
Miller saw the progress he wanted from the team from its first exhibition to its second over the weekend.
"Clearly we've identified that we have some strengths," Miller said.
Some of those strengths are clear to see. Star freshman big man Deandre Ayton and junior guard Allonzo Trier will be a big part of the puzzle this year as Miller chases an elusive Final Four berth.
Ayton was dominant in two exhibition games, averaging 26 points and 10.5 rebounds against Eastern New Mexico and Chico State. The 7-foot-1 Ayton and senior center Dusan Ristic have provided the Wildcats an impressive one-two punch in the frontcourt.
"I think our ability to score at the four and the five together, especially between Deandre and Dusan, is unique," Miller said. "There's not a lot of teams that have two low-post scorers like them. Deandre, I think, has also proven that he's an excellent passer."
Trier, a preseason All-American by various media outlets, averaged a team-high 17.2 points as a sophomore after he missed the first half of the season for testing positive for a banned substance.
"He doesn't just score," Miller said. "He's more efficient than he ever has been. He's an improved defensive player and we continue to challenge him in that area. ... He can play within the confines of the team game better than ever. So, I'm excited for him as well."
NAU has had plenty of roster turnover this season, welcoming eight newcomers to a team that went 9-23 last season and lost its two top scorers. Former Stanford guard Malcolm Allen and former UTSA guard Gino Littles highlight the group, with Littles having 26 starts under his belt and Allen having Pac-12 experience.
Guard Karl Harris began his career at LaSalle.
"All three of those guys come with high-level, Division I experience," NAU coach Jack Murphy said. "It has helped elevate our practices, has brought energy to the team and even more leadership to the team. Those three for sure have really come in and helped our program quite a bit."
Arizona's 8 p.m. ET tip with the Lumberjacks will mark a stretch of two games in three days for the Wildcats, with UMBC coming to town Sunday afternoon, meaning there will be plenty of opportunities across the board.
"We know everyone can score," freshman forward Ira Lee said. "Everybody on this team can defend. There's going to be guys that have 20 and there's going to be guys that have five. It's going to change each night, but I think we've all accepted that."
Updated November 8, 2017