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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Wildcats take care of business, blow by Fighting Hawks in first round

SALT LAKE CITY–Nothing is impossible in March Madness and the North Dakota Fighting Hawks reminded the Arizona Wildcats of just that. 

The No. 2 seed Wildcats found themselves in a tight game, but eventually pulled away for a 100-82 victory in a game that was as close as seven points midway through the second half. 

The Fighting Hawks got the big nights they needed from senior guard Quinton Hooker, who scored 25 points, and junior forward Drick Bernstine who poured in 20 points.

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For as close as the game was halfway through the second half, things were going according to plan for Arizona in the first half.

It took a few minutes, but the Arizona Wildcats picked up right where they left off last weekend in Las Vegas. It was the first game of the tournament for some on the Arizona roster and it took a few possessions for the team to settle in.

After five minutes, North Dakota looked like they could be the type of team to pull off a historic 15 over 2 upset and they held a 10-9 lead early on. Their energy, on the court and from the nearly 500 UND faithful who made the 1,200 mile trip, looked like it could propel them to the upset. Arizona guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright said the Wildcats came out “flat” and that jitters might have played a part.

“Coach was saying we didn’t bring our identity like we did just this past weekend in Vegas, but they’re here for a reason,” Jackson-Cartwright said. “We give them a lot of credit.”

Jackson-Cartwright admitted he was nervous during his first NCAA Tournament game but said after tonight, he believes the jitters for the young players on this year’s team won’t be an issue in Saturday’s matchup with St. Mary’s. 

Senior Kadeem Allen was impressed with Arizona’s stable of freshman in their first NCAA Tournament action.

“They’ve been a rock for our team since day one,” Allen said of the Wildcats’ three freshman. “For them to play their first NCAA Tournament game, Rawle [Alkins] stepped up big time, Lauri [Markkanen] he stepped up big time and made big plays and kept us in the game.”

Markkanen had his way down low against North Dakota’s Carson Shanks and Drick Bernstine. The freshman scored 16 points on 6-8 shooting and grabbed six rebounds in the first half. He attempted just one shot outside of the paint in the first half, a missed 3-point shot, but he didn’t need to stretch his game outside of the paint. He finished his first career NCAA Tournament game with 20 points and six rebounds on 8-12 shooting.

For as hard as the Hawks were fighting, the Wildcats simply had more size, speed and talent. It became apparent from the 15-minute mark of the first half on.

Arizona knew they would have a height advantage down low and took full advantage. With North Dakota’s tallest starter listed at 6’8, everyone in the building knew that Arizona wanted to attack the Hawks down low.

“It was,” said Arizona head coach Sean Miller when he was asked if Arizona’s game plan was to score in the paint. “We utilized our size. That’s important in a game like tonight to play to your strengths.”

As a team, the Wildcats shot 58 percent from the field and most of their points came in the paint. They outscored North Dakota 54-34 in the paint and outrebounded them 40-31 on the night.

The Hawks struggled to get any help from outside of their starters. Hooker did his part but got little help from his bench. North Dakota had one point off the bench until the final five minutes of the second half when they inserted an entire group of players off the bench because of the lopsided score.

It seemed like a typical first round beat down, but to the Fighting Hawks’ credit, they went out swinging.

The Fighting Hawks cut the deficit to seven points with 12 minutes to go in the game and appeared to have all the momentum. Arizona’s defense struggled to get stops in the second half for the second straight game after giving up 51 points to Oregon in the second half of the Pac-12 Championship game.

“I think if you listen to us, I think the sentiment up here is we wish we felt better about our defensive effort and I think we’d have put together one heck of a game,” Miller said. 

With 11 minutes to go in the game the score stood at 68-61 and Hooker sent up a 3-pointer that looked like it was headed for the bottom of the net, but it rattled off the rim. Kadeem Allen was able to draw contact on the following possession and complete a three-point play. 

That six-point swing was the end of North Dakota’s chances at history. Miller sensed his team was on their heels before Allen’s big play, and turned to his leader to get things going.

“That stretch, coach challenged me and told me I’m the leader and a senior. And that if I want to go out like that, so be it,” said Allen. “I stepped up, my team gave me the confidence and encouragement and we just went on a run.”

The Wildcats regained their composure after Allen connected at the line and it sparked a 10-0 run that put Arizona ahead 78-61. The Wildcats would finish with 100 points for the first time this season. 

Alkins turned in his most efficient game as a Wildcat. He went 8-8 from the field and finished tied with Markkanen for a team-high 20 points. He had four rebounds and five assists and led all Arizona players with a +/- of 26.

‘In Rawle’s case, it might have been his best game he’s played at Arizona, 20 points, 5 assists, no turnovers, 8 for 8 from the field. It’s a big reason why we scored a hundred points tonight and maybe offset a little bit of our defense.”

In all, the Wildcats had five scorers in double digits in Allen (10), Dusan Ristic (12), Allonzo Trier (18), Alkins and Markkanen.

The Wildcats are set to face the St. Mary’s Gaels on Saturday in a matchup with a berth to the Sweet 16 on the line.

After an opening night that challenged the Wildcats at times, as well as proving they belong as a number two seed, they won and nothing else matters.

“Whether it was jitters [or coming out flat] it was the first game and were just happy to be here and happy to advance,” said Jackson-Cartwright.

Tip-off will be 30 minutes after the conclusion of the Gonzaga-Northwestern game that begins at 2:15 p.m.  

Follow Christopher Deak on Twitter

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