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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Markkanen scores career high in Arizona Wildcats’ win over CSU-Bakersfield

Alex McIntyre
Arizona forward Lauri Markkanen (10) dunks ahead of CSU Bakersfield forward Matt Smith (0) against CSU Bakersfield in McKale Center on Tuesday, Nov. 15. The Wildcats are up 44-26 at halftime.

Arizona basketball scored a 78-66 victory over the Cal-State Bakersfield Roadrunners in the 2016-17 regular season home opener Tuesday night. The Wildcats moved to 2-0 on the season.

Two freshmen led the way for the Wildcats as Lauri Markkanen and Rawle Alkins both had big nights. Alkins made his first four collegiate 3-pointers after starting 0-for-6 on the season, and finished the night with 15 points and 3 assists.

Markkanen continued to impress, displaying his full arsenal against the Roadrunners. He opened the scoring for the Wildcats, breaking the Roadrunners’ full-court press and going coast-to-coast for a rousing McKale Center slam dunk. He displayed his versatility playing three positions in the first half, including a few minutes at shooting guard.

The talented freshman finished with 26 points on 8-of-11 shooting and scored in the paint, from beyond the arc and on a couple of pull-up jumpers. Miller raved about the impact of his Finnish big man after Tuesday’s win.

“Lauri is one of the best players in college basketball. He’s a monster,” Miller said.

When asked if he had ever seen a player with Markkanen’s size be able to run like the freshman does, Miller’s answer was simple.

“I’ve never seen it. I’m just calling it like it is. He’s going to do nothing but get better because he’s about the right things. He’s so about the team, he’s such a hard worker, he makes life easy for a coach.”

Arizona combined to go 9-for-39 from beyond the arc in their two exhibition games and against Michigan State, but turned things around to knock down 7-of-14 shots from deep against the Roadrunners.

With senior Kadeem Allen nursing a sprained knee, freshman Kobi Simmons received his first collegiate start. This allowed Alkins to get his first minutes of the season at a guard position when Simmons was out, and it appeared to make all the difference.

RELATED: Arizona men’s basketball notebook: CSU-Bakersfield 

Alkins connected on his first three attempts from beyond the arc and sparked the Wildcats on the offensive end in the first half. When Simmons was asked about Alkins’ impact in the first half, Simmons said Alkins was “big time,” and attributed his success to work Alkins has done behind the scenes.

“He’s been in the gym consistently working on his jump shot and we’ve been giving him the most confidence shooting the ball,” Simmons said. “[Tonight] it clicked.”

After another sloppy start in the game’s opening minutes, Arizona found itself in a quick hole. Bakersfield opened the game on a 7-2 run, but Arizona appeared to have gained complete control of the game by halftime.

The Wildcats had only seven available scholarship players in tonight’s game, and Miller mixed up his lineup. Markkanen was in the game as Arizona’s shooting guard at one point, and junior Keanu Pinder was playing small forward. Sophomore Paulo Cruz became the first walk-on to enter a game this season and played just one minute.

Arizona led by 18 at the half and stretched out its lead to as many as 21 in the second half, but the Roadrunners refused to go away and brought the game to as close as four points with nine minutes to go.

Arizona’s defense struggled at times down the stretch, and allowed CSU-Bakersfield to stay in the game. The Roadrunners outscored the Wildcats in the paint 26-22 with the bulk of those points coming in the second half. Second-chance points allowed the Roadrunners to stay close, as they dominated Arizona 21-5.

“I would say a big part of Bakersfield’s run in the second half was a flurry of second shots,” said Miller. “We got the stop and sometimes they got a second shot and that turned in to a three-point shot or a foul. Our big guys have to do a great job of rebounding; all good teams they don’t give you second shots.”

Miller spoke of the effects not having the on and off the court leader in Kadeem Allen, and how badly Arizona needs to stay healthy.

“He might be our most important player based on what he does on offense and on defense,” Miller said. “We got our fingers crossed that we can get a good stretch of health.”

The Wildcats still had enough sheer talent to hold off CSU-Bakersfield without their senior leader Allen, but hope to have him back soon.

Arizona will face Sacred Heart on Friday at 8 p.m. in McKale Center. The game will be televised on Pac-12 Networks.

Follow Christopher Deak on Twitter.

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