UA basketball, on long climb back, takes over Pac-12 lead


Based on the latest Pac-12 standings, the University of Arizona men’s basketball team is finally beginning to realize the potential it carried into the season when the Wildcats were ranked No. 2 in the nation and a near-unanimous pick to win the conference title.

But three straight losses at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament during the Thanksgiving holidays dropped the highly-touted Cats from the Top 25 and put them on the long climb back to respectability.

Saturday’s 73-71 victory over Stanford just gave Arizona (16-4, 6-1) sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 and boosted the Cats’ ranking in the Associated Press poll from No.14 to No. 11.

However, it didn’t inspire a lot of confidence in the fan base.  The Wildcats had to come back from an 11-point deficit midway through the second half against an unranked team.  They didn’t secure the win until Rawle Alkins gave them the lead with 38 seconds to go in the game and Allonzo Trier made three free throws in the final 18 seconds to nail down the victory.

The two-point win maintained the Cats’ grip on a team they have owned for several years now.  Going into Saturday’s game, Arizona had won 15 consecutive meetings with the Cardinal.  During that time, the average margin of victory had been 13.3 points per game.

This game was on the road, but that hasn’t seemed to make much difference.  The last time the Cats took on Stanford at The Farm, they returned to Tucson with a 39-point victory.

But this year, the game was a contest between the top two teams in the conference.  Stanford was on a five-game win streak, including a victory over No. 16 Arizona State three days earlier.

The Stanford win is the 13th in the last 14 games for Arizona, but the Cardinal gave the Wildcats more trouble than most of the others.  The average margin of victory in those other 12 games was 11 points.

Stanford fell behind in the first half, trailing by as many as 12 points at one time, but closed the gap to 31-29 by halftime and then used an 11-point run in the second half to tie the game at 46.  Arizona stormed back with 11 straight of its own to knot the score again, using three-pointers from Alkins, Trier, and Dylan Smith.

The rest of the way, neither team could stretch a lead to more than four points.

Trier finished the night with 21 points to lead all scorers.  Dusan Ristic, the 7-foot senior center from Serbia, added 18 points and nine rebounds, and Alkins, who missed the first nine games this season following foot surgery, played 34 minutes and contributed 13 points and seven rebounds.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)