TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Sean Miller was back on the job, Allonzo Trier was back on the court and Arizona earned at least a share of another Pac-12 championship.
All accomplished in an emotionally charged end to a highly unusual day in Tucson.
Dusan Ristic scored 15 of his 21 points in the first half and No. 19 Arizona beat Stanford 75-67 on Thursday night.
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.
“I think everybody did a great job,” Ristic said, “because obviously it’s not easy to come back after everything that has gone on these past few days.”
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 (16-14, 10-7). The loss 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.
“Tucson and our fans, they’ve always been the very, very best to my family and myself, have supported our basketball program like no other,” Miller said. “To see them do that is very emotional and something I’ll never forget.”
Ristic called the crowd reaction “amazing.”
“It was really special not only for the fans but also the players,” he said.
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 wrongdoing by Miller 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 said the players hadn’t seen Miller all week. The coach said his assistants developed the game plan.
And from the moment that Miller arrived, the McKale Center crowd was even louder than usual.
“It was a beehive,” Stanford coach Jerod Haase said. “I think we did take, in some ways, a step forward tonight in being able to battle arguably the most talented team in the country, playing for a conference championship with a lot of emotion, a lot of passion out there, so I was proud that we played hard.”
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’s 7-of-8 shooting.
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 away the game.
“It’s been a hard week for those guys,” Miller said.
Stanford: 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.
Arizona: 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 “minuscule” 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.
Stanford: At Arizona State on Saturday night.
Arizona: Hosts California on Saturday.
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