There was a lot of spectacle being made about DeAndre Ayton returning to The Bahamas this week to play in the 2017 Bad Boy Mowers Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, and despite the fact the Arizona Wildcats dropped its first two games, the buildup about the 7-footer’s return to where it all started was worth it.
Ayton put up a career-high 27 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in his first game home against North Carolina State, and followed that up with a 17-point, 15-rebound effort against Southern Methodist University (SMU). Ayton has posted a double-double in all five of Arizona’s games up to this point, and is currently averaging just over 20 points and 12 rebounds per game.
“He’s been great here for us and all season long,” said Wildcats coach Sean Miller. “He’s been aggressive, and there is just a lot I can say about what DeAndre has done. Honestly, he’s been fantastic, we just have to find a way to put it all together and we’ll figure it out. Sometimes it can be a good thing that a team like this faces adversity early.”
Although Ayton has been the x-factor on the court for Arizona so far this season, Miller said he’s going to look into trying something new on the offensive end of the floor to give Ayton even more space on the floor. Dusan Ristic played just one minute in the second half against SMU. The Mustangs elected to use a small, athletic lineup and spread the floor, which made Miller uncomfortable playing Ristic and Ayton, two 7-footers, concurrently.
However, following the game, Miller said that instead of matching other teams when they go small, he’d consider leaving both big men in to take advantage of their size on the inside. The move would present new scoring opportunities for both Ayton and Ristic. Miller added that he’d look to run a zone defense to help slow down the other team’s offense.
“As a coach you have to figure out how to put your best players on the court, and there are times with DeAndre and (Dusan) together we may have to look at some zone,” Miller said. “I know that’s something we haven’t done a whole lot in my time but in our current situation, just big picture, Dusan is such a force in the low post and he’s such a good scorer that it’s difficult to rationalize that he’s not able to play him because they went small.”
Last year, Miller used the zone sporadically so he could play Ristic and Lauri Markkanen. Playing Ristic more minutes would limit the amount of double and triple teams opposing defenses would be able to throw at Ayton, which would help bolster his already impressive numbers.