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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona Wildcats men’s basketball rebounds from L.A., dominates UC Irvine

Arizona+guard+Kadeem+Allen+%285%29+rebounds+the+ball+against+UC+Irvine+during+the+Wildcats+79-57+victory+on+Tuesday%2C+Dec.+6+in+McKale+Center.
Steven Spooner
Arizona guard Kadeem Allen (5) rebounds the ball against UC Irvine during the Wildcat’s 79-57 victory on Tuesday, Dec. 6 in McKale Center.

No. 20 Arizona men’s basketball moved to 7-2 on the season with a 79-57 victory over the University of California, Irvine Anteaters. Freshman Lauri Markkanen led the Wildcats with 18 points and four rebounds.

The Anteaters came out with a 2-3 zone defense that has given the Wildcats trouble all season, and Arizona hit some tough shots early in the first half. Freshman Rawle Alkins had three offensive rebounds in the first four minutes, which helped the Wildcats get settled early in the game.

As usual, Markkanen got the offense going in the first half with a pull-up jumper on the baseline, followed by a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer a few minutes later. Alkins connected on a 3 of his own a minute and a half after Markkanen, and Arizona grabbed a quick 14-5 lead that it would not relinquish for the entire game.

Ristic and Markkanen combined for 36 points, and Markkanen stole the show in the second half after a big first half from Ristic. Markkanen scored 13 points in the second half and connected on 3-of-5 shots from 3-point land.

While the Wildcats have relied on Markkanen early and often, Arizona head coach Sean Miller noted that the Finnish forward still has room for improvement.

“He’s just such a special offensive player; it comes easy for him” Miller said. “Even [Markkanen]—he’s not perfect he makes defensive mistakes. We had plenty that we talked to him about after recent games, but I thought he did a good job tonight defensively. Maybe better than he’s been.”

Arizona once again had only seven scholarship players dressed for the game, and Miller made a clear effort to play at a slower pace. It’s an effort by Miller to make sure that his team has enough energy to make it through a full 40 minutes.

The Wildcats broke down the Anteater zone throughout the first half, but struggled to finish good looks until they broke it open in the last three minutes of the first half. The Wildcats were shooting around 40 percent, but hit their last four shots and finished the half shooting 52 percent.

Arizona’s defense had a rocky start in the second half and picked up five fouls in the opening minutes. The Wildcats employed a different strategy—one that Tucsonans are not used to seeing. Miller employed a 2-3 zone of his own for a couple of minutes, and it stifled the Anteaters.

“We work on [the 2-3 zone defense] all the time,” Miller said. “Just looking at our players, we’re wearing down. As the season grows, [each game] wears you out for the next game. We’re really big, that’s one of the strengths of our current group. Using that size is probably a smart move.”

Arizona held the Anteaters to 41 percent shooting in the second half and 38 percent for the night.

Foul trouble, however, was an issue for the Wildcats. Both Alkins and sophomore Chance Comanche had four fouls early in the second half. Comanche fouled out with 8:53 to go, finishing the game with two points and no rebounds. It meant that Ristic would have to play the rest of the game but he had only played 25 minutes before Comanche fouled out.

Alkins’ foul issues led to walk-on redshirt sophomore Tyler Trillo logging 13 minutes in the contest, snaring two assists. Alkins was limited to 25 minutes but still finished with 14 points and seven rebounds.

Arizona was fortunate to have a big lead and a matchup with the Anteaters to work through the team’s first real foul trouble of the season. The Wildcats head to Missouri this weekend and will need to avoid the same kind of trouble. Arizona beat the Missouri Tigers in Tucson last year, and the matchup presents the Wildcats’ first true road game of the season.

“We’re playing a Southeastern Conference opponent, an opponent that we beat here a year ago,” Miller said. “I’m sure that they remember that. We’re going to have to be ready; we’re going to have to play great.”

Arizona and Missouri tip off Saturday at 10 a.m. The game will be aired on ESPN2.


Follow Chris Deak on Twitter.


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