Miller returns, Arizona clinches share of Pac-12 title
10:39 PM, Mar 1, 2018
TUCSON, Ariz - With coach Sean Miller back on the job and Allonzo Trier reinstated, No. 19 Arizona clinched at least a share of the Pac-12 title with a 75-67 victory over Stanford on Thursday night.
Dusan Ristic scored 15 of his 21 points in the first half. Ristic, a senior, set a school record by participating in his 111th victory. Trier, reinstated by the NCAA after a two-game suspension, added 18 points for the Wildcats (23-7, 13-4 Pac-12) and Deandre Ayton, the freshman who leads the Pac-12 in scoring and rebounding, had 12 points and 10 boards.
Arizona has won or shared the conference regular season title five times since 2010-11 and beat Stanford for the 17th straight time. The Wildcats can clinch the title outright by beating California on Saturday night or if USC loses to UCLA.
Arizona clinched the No. 1 seed in next week's conference tournament because the Wildcats beat USC in their only meeting this season.
Reid Travis scored 23 points for the Cardinal. The loss for Stanford (16-14, 10-7) was a blow to the Cardinal's hopes for a top-four finish in the conference and a first-round bye next week.
Miller returned after a one-game absence, getting a loud welcome from the McKale Center throng as he entered the arena, waving to the fans as his players smiled and clapped.
Earlier in the day, Miller read a statement to reporters vehemently denying he had approved payment to Ayton, or any player, in his time at Arizona. The university's president said an examination of the facts found no evidence of Miller wrongdoing and the school was standing by its coach.
ESPN said it is standing by its report that a wiretap shows Miller talking about a $100,000 payoff to Ayton. Ayton has denied that anything was given to him to attend Arizona.
Ristic scored nine in a 16-3 run that put the Wildcats up 35-23 on Trier's 12-footer in the lane with 2:02 to play in the half. Arizona led 37-28 at the half behind Ristic's7-of-8 shooting.
Miller called time out after Stanford's Oscar Da Silva was alone inside for a dunk that gave the Cardinal their last lead, 20-19, with 9:58 left in the first half. Arizona clamped down its defense and Stanford scored just three points in the next 7 1/2 minutes.
The decisive run came with Ayton on the bench with two fouls. Ayton, who fouled out in Arizona's 75-73 win at Stanford on Jan. 20, sat out 8 minutes of the first half.
The Cardinal kept the deficit to single digits most of the second half and were down 69-64 after Daejon Davis' dunk with 1:04 to play. Trier made four from the line and Ayton two to finally put the game away.
Stanford probably needs to win the conference tournament to make the NCAA field but still has a shot at a top four finish in the conference with a victory at Arizona State on Saturday.
McKale was rocking and the emotion of Miller's return - as well as Trier's - carried the team to its early lead. The Wildcats will be heavily favored to clinch the conference title outright against last-place California on Saturday night.
About 2 hours before tipoff, Arizona announced the NCAA had cleared Trier to return to the team.
He missed games at Oregon State and Oregon last weekend after testing positive for what the university described as a "miniscule" amount of the banned substance that had led to his 19-game suspension last season. Trier said he unknowingly ingested the substance a year ago.
The university had argued that the positive test was the result of a remnant of what Trier had taken last year.
Trier entered the game tied for second in the Pac-12 in scoring at 19.6 points per game.