The Arizona Wildcats are halfway through their Los Angeles Road trip and they are continuing to take a wild ride through the Pac-12 Conference. The Wildcats narrowly took down the USC Trojans by a score of 73-66 on Thursday night, extending their conference record to 6-0. Now, they look to Saturday as they prepare to take on the No. 3 UCLA Bruins.
But it’s more than just a battle between two top 15 teams this Saturday. Here is a list of the top story lines heading into Saturday’s Arizona-UCLA matchup.
1HE’S BACK: Allonzo Trier is finally cleared to play:
The mystery behind Arizona guard Allonzo Trier’s absence has finally been solved. A report first leaked by ESPN’s Jeff Goodman stated that Trier failed a random NCAA test for performance enhancing drugs in September. Hours later, Trier released an official statement confirming the leak stating that he unknowingly took a banned substance and presented compelling information to the NCAA in his appeal attempt.
Trier won his appeal and will be cleared to play for Arizona once the banned substance is completely out of his system. Soon after, Greg Hansen of the Arizona Daily Star reported that Trier would be cleared to play vs. UCLA. On Friday afternoon, the University released a statement confirming that Trier’s most recent drug test came back negative and is immediately available to return to play.
2MATCHED: Lauri Markkanen vs. Lonzo Ball
Saturday’s matchup against the Bruins will also finally bring together two star freshmen: Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen and UCLA’s Lonzo Ball. This may be the matchup everyone has been waiting for this season. Yes, the two play different positions (Markkanen plays Forward, Ball plays Point Guard), but these two freshmen are both creating names for themselves in “The Conference of Champions.”
Lauri Markkanen is the best freshman Sean Miller has had in Tucson. Derrick Williams' breakout year came as a sophomore.
— Shane Dale (@ShaneDaleABC15) January 20, 2017
Markkanen is one of the few lucky freshmen this year to have recorded at least one 30-point game. On the other hand, Ball has 96 field goals this season, 46 of those are beyond the arch. But what makes Markkanen slightly more interesting is watching a seven-foot forward drain three consecutive field goals form three point range while making it all look easy.
3A Job Half-Done
It’s no secret that the Arizona Wildcats are a one-half team. In the past few seasons, Arizona has continually played only a single half of blow out basketball. While, in the other half, the Wildcats play very lack-luster. In other words, the Wildcats barely ever play a complete game.
Take Thursday night’s game for example: at the half the Wildcats led the Trojans 29-19. While that’s nothing special as compared to other half leads they have had, what happened in the second half tells the story.
At one point in the second half, it seemed as if the Wildcats could finally play a complete game, when they took a 23 point lead. But everything took a turn for Arizona after the Trojans went on an offensive run that cut the Wildcat lead fro 23 to 3 points.
This has become a problem that Sean Miller has continued to address time in and time out. Now Sean Miller knows he needs to take action for the lack of a full effort by the Wildcats. In his post game press conference, Miller said that he will bench those players that he sees are not giving a full game effort.
Sean Miller talks about the second half meltdown against USC and says he'll sit players if they don't bring effort for 40 minutes. pic.twitter.com/09GRbx9Pgw
— Justin Spears (@JustinESports) January 20, 2017
Weather or not Miller’s benching method will work is not known, but it is definitely a step in the right direction as compared to watching the Wildcats continue to tank leads in the second half.
The Wildcats and Bruins tip off on Saturday at 1:00 PM Pacific Standard Time at the Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles. The game will air on CBS nationwide.