Gimino: Opportunity knocks for Arizona's Dusan Ristic - Tucson News Now

Gimino: Opportunity knocks for Arizona's Dusan Ristic

Dusan Risticis averaging 5.7 points per game this season. (Photo by Colin Prenger/Arizona Athletics) Dusan Risticis averaging 5.7 points per game this season. (Photo by Colin Prenger/Arizona Athletics)
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

You know the old saying: When you lose your starting center, it's the next 7-footer up.

Well, maybe that's not quite how the adage goes, but that's how it is going to be at Arizona, which will be without fourth-year starting big man Kaleb Tarczewski through the final six non-conference games and possibly into the Pac-12 season, which begins Jan. 3 at Arizona State.

Hello, Dusan.

While Zeus recovers from left foot injuries, this is opportunity knocking for sophomore Dusan Ristic, an uncommonly skilled offensive player for someone so young -- terrific hands, clever moves, soft touch. He's been a luxury off the bench for coach Sean Miller, who now figures -- for better or worse -- to rely on more than just spot duty from Ristic.

"From an offensive standpoint, he gives us a lot. He's done it," Miller said.

"The thing that we're the most pleased with with Dusan, if you look at his rebounding, especially per minute, it really stands out and it's a huge improvement over where he was as a freshman, which I think says a lot about Dusan's future and maybe even this year."

His rebounding average has increased from 9.8 per 40 minutes last season to 16.4 per 40 minutes this season.

He's pulling down 6.1 boards per game while playing an average of 15 minutes. Miller has repeatedly raved about how Ristic has remade his body in a year's time, losing body fat and adding between 30 and 40 pounds of muscle on a 255-pound frame. Insane.

"Playing more minutes now, I'm anxious to see what his rebounding total will eventually become because he's doing an exceptional job in that area right now," Miller said.

Now that we've built up Ristic ...

You know Miller values defense above just about everything in basketball life, and that's where Tucson Dusan needs to make the biggest improvement.

"First of all, he has to play without fouling," Miller said, "and against Gonzaga, that is a real, real concern."

No doubt. Arizona, 6-1 and ranked plays its marquee non-conference game Saturday at Gonzaga, which has been advertised as having the best frontcourt in the country.

The Bulldogs are dealing with health concerns of their own because their jumbo center Przemek Karnowski -- he's like a lumberjack on steroids -- is suffering from back spasms that forced him to miss Wednesday night's game at Washington State. His availability to play against Arizona is in question.

Gonzaga moved 6-10 Donatas Sabonis (a potential 2016 first-rounder) into the starting lineup Wednesday alongside 6-10 Kyle Wiltjer, a preseason All-American and one of the toughest matchups in the country because of his 3-point shooting skills.

Miller has options other than Ristic. He could very well go with a starting senior post combination of Ryan Anderson and Mark Tollefsen, with Ristic and freshman Chance Comanche off the bench.

Ristic, unable to chase Wiltjer out to the 3-point line, would draw the defensive assignment on Sabonis in an intriguing battle in the low post.

Ristic has seemed to enjoy using his new-found strength.

"He's not just 7-feet, but he has great reach and wingspan. He's more like 7-foot-4," Miller said of Ristic.

"Around the basket, I think he uses that to his advantage. Getting away from the basket and moving around, those are the things he has really improved on, but I think he still has a ways to go to get to where he wants to be and where we need him to be.

"Being able to get game experience, that will speed the process up. It doesn't mean he will always be successful doing it."

Miller could say the same thing about freshman post Chance Comanche. He also moves up the playing-time ladder because of Tarczewski's injury, and Miller says that he thinks Comanche will play in every game from here on out.

We'll see, and it might just be a few minutes, but it could be more if Ristic gets into foul trouble and Miller doesn't want to go with a small lineup for an extended period of time.

"Chance and Dusan have a big opportunity," Miller said.

"We watch them every day. We believe in both of those guys. I think they will do nothing but improve and get better.

"The silver lining I hope for us is one day down the road when Kaleb has returned, he may return to a team that is more confident and is actually deeper than it was before he left because of the opportunity that some of our guys have been given."

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