Amid its best offensive season in 12 years, Arizona suddenly finds itself in search of an explosive scoring threat with the injury to Allonzo Trier.
The 6'5" freshman guard is out four to six weeks after suffering a broken finger in Saturday's quadruple-overtime loss at USC. According to coach Sean Miller, per Bruce Pascoe of the Arizona Daily Star, Trier suffered the injury late in the first overtime yet still played every minute of extra time.
Trier scored five of his team-high 25 points after getting hurt, including on a step-back three-pointer, but the injury likely contributed to him missing two free throws with the game tied at 93 with 1:07 left in the third OT. The team provided highlights of Trier's three-point shot:
Arizona Athletics @AZATHLETICS
Trier step back 3 #HUGE #AZvsUSC @APlayersProgram https://t.co/JhyLAagBym2016-1-10 02:33:01
It was the fifth 20-point game of the season for Trier, who leads Arizona in scoring at 14.8 points per game.
"He was playing the best basketball of his young career at Arizona," Miller said in a statement released Sunday (h/t Zack Rosenblatt of the Arizona Daily Star).
Arizona has three players averaging double figures and seven who score at least 8.4 points per game, a balanced attack that has helped the Wildcats average 81.6. If that rate holds it would be their highest since 2003-04, but that will require someone else to slide into Trier's role as an aggressive, go-to scorer who brings the game to him.
Trier had a 22-point game in November in which he only attempted five field goals, going to the line 14 times. He's attempted 87 foul shots, making 78.2 percent.
Based on the options Miller has at his disposal, it's more likely he'll turn to the bench to fill the void unless he wants a starter to drastically change his role.
Seniors Ryan Anderson and Gabe York are averaging 14.4 and 13.8 points per game, respectively, but each has major limitations to his offensive game. Anderson, a 6'9" forward, gets most of his points off rebounds but isn't able to create his own shot, while York has the capability to get red-hot but also go ice-cold. The 6'3" guard's 43.6 percent field-goal rate is second-worst among Arizona's nine most used players, with more than half of his scoring coming from three-point range.
Junior guard Kadeem Allen is the best option among starters to pick up Trier's slack. He was the NJCAA Junior College Player of the Year in 2013-14, scoring more than 1,400 points in two seasons at Hutchinson (Kansas), but with Arizona he'd seemed reluctant to produce until recently.
The 6'5" Allen has averaged 11.8 points and taken nine shots per game over his last five, having attempted only 59 field goals in his first 11 games.
"Miller could also use Kadeem Allen like he used Trier, an aggressive perimeter player who drove the lane fearlessly to draw fouls," Javier Morales of AllSportsTucson.com wrote. "Allen has that ability."
Turning Allen loose would probably mean bringing 5'8" sophomore Parker Jackson-Cartwright in to run the offense, but that might be subtraction by addition. Jackson-Cartwright is Arizona's worst shooter, at 35.5 percent.
Reserves Mark Tollefsen and Justin Simon figure to play most of the minutes that would have gone to Trier.
Tollefsen, a 6'9" graduate transfer from San Francisco, is a 52 percent shooter whose 130.6 offensive rating, per Sports-Reference.com is tops on the team. Simon, a 6'5" guard who was the No. 34 player in the 2015 recruiting class, per 247Sports, had 19 points in a two-game span in mid-December but has scored only six points in 32 minutes over the last five games. Miller shared his thoughts regarding Simon both as an individual and as a key team member (h/t AZ Desert Swarm):
AZ Desert Swarm @azdesertswarm
This is what Miller had to say about Justin Simon last week. Might be happening tonight https://t.co/W4yORaLC7s https://t.co/KCUyqSQNbY2016-1-10 00:40:40
Had such an injury occurred to one of Arizona's playmakers last season or the year before, it would have just buckled down harder on defense to negate the loss. But the Wildcats have struggled mightily on that side of the court this season. The 67.3 points per game and 41.6 percent shooting they allow is a major drop from 59.7 points and 39.8 percent in 2014-15.
Miller has referred to the Wildcats as the "worst defensive team that I’ve coached at Arizona since my first year," per Jack Magruder of TodaysU.com. They've allowed 70 or more points in five straight games.
It doesn't help that Trier is essentially the third person at the wing position that Arizona has lost. Freshman Ray Smith tore his ACL in the preseason, and junior Elliott Pitts has missed the last nine games with what is only being described as a "personal issue." Pitts was one of the Wildcats' top on-ball defenders, though Trier had been making great strides in that area.
The timetable would put Trier on pace to return in mid-to-late February. The Feb. 12 visit from UCLA—which beat Arizona by three on Thursday—would fall in the middle of that window—34 days after the injury.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.