I almost feel like the difference in the game was (Allonzo Trier) offensive outburst there midway through the second half. —Arizona coach Sean Miller
SALT LAKE CITY — Allonzo Trier came into Saturday night’s NCAA game as Arizona’s leading scorer at 17.3 points per game. However, he didn’t have it early on in Saturday’s second-round game against Saint Mary’s, going scoreless in the first half and missing all four of his shots.
Then midway through the second half, Trier caught fire, found his rhythm, whatever you want to call it. He scored seven straight points in less than two minutes to turn a two-point deficit into a five-point Arizona lead. His team, which had trailed the majority of the night up to that point, never trailed again and held on for a 69-60 victory at Vivint Arena.
With the win, Arizona moves on to play Xavier, the West’s 11th seed, which knocked off Florida State 91-66 earlier Saturday, in a Sweet 16 game in San Jose on Thursday.
Much of the attention after the game was focused on the Wildcats’ fabulous Finnish freshman forward Lauri Markkanen, who led the team with 16 points and 11 rebounds, and freshman forward Rawle Alkins, who came back to play after dislocating a finger in the first half. But Arizona coach Sean Miller felt Trier’s second-half surge was key to the victory.
“I almost feel like the difference in the game was (Trier’s) offensive outburst there midway through the second half,” said Miller. “Certainly when he’s confident, our team is a lot better.”
Trier, who scored all 14 of his points in the second half, broke the ice with a jumper early in the second half. Then after the two well-matched teams traded the lead eight times over the first nine minutes of the second half, Trier got hot.
The Gaels were leading 46-44 when Trier sank a 3-point shot from out front, giving the Wildcats a lead they’d never relinquish with 10:51 left. He followed with a fall-back 15-foot jumper that banked in from the left angle. Then on the next possession, he was fouled and made two free throws to make it 51-46 with 9:09 left.
The pesky Gaels could never get closer than three the rest of the way, as the Wildcats hit six of seven free throws down the stretch.
As far as the confident Trier was concerned, it wasn’t a big deal that he got a goose egg in the opening half when his team trailed the whole time.
“I may be struggling, but in my mind, I’m fine,” he said. “Whether I made my last five or missed my last five it doesn’t change too much, you won’t see me wear it on my face. It’s kind of how I am. I stuck with it in the second half and made sure I answered the bell.”
Miller said Trier got off to a bad start when he stepped out of bounds by mistake early in the game and it set the tone in a negative way.
“Allonzo, he wants to play so well, and tonight he didn’t have the confidence he usually has,” Miller said. “He’s been thinking about this for a long time and wants it very badly. But he put it behind him at halftime and he really got going.”
Trier said it helped that the coach called a couple of plays for him to get his confidence going.
“My number was called and I did what I was supposed to do, score,” he said. “They were designed like clear out plays to allow me to do what I do best and create on my own and score the basketball. I’m thrilled whenever I have that chance and I try to take advantage of it.”
Saint Mary’s played its usual precise game, which resulted in mostly layups in the early going as the Gaels jumped out to a 22-12 lead. Arizona chipped away to get within one at halftime at 30-29, but in the second half the Wildcats clamped down defensively to limit the layups and force the Gaels to shoot 3-pointers, which they had a tough time hitting all night.
For the game, the Gaels made just 5 of 21 for 23.8 percent, their lowest percentage of the season.
“They close out hard,” said coach Randy Bennett. “They give you threes, but they’re flying at you when you shoot and they get a big hand up there. We had some open ones we needed to make.”
Center Jock Landale was the Gaels’ top player, finishing with 19 points and 11 rebounds, while Calvin Hermanson scored 14 and Tanner Krebs had 12 off the bench.