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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Arizona cruises past New Mexico in renewed rivalry game

Alex McIntyre
Arizona forward Lauri Markkanen (10) snags a rebound a head and shoulders above Northern Colorado forward Kai Edwards (25) in McKale Center on Monday, Nov. 21.

No. 18 Arizona closed out its non-conference slate with a 77-46 victory over the New Mexico Lobos. Sophomore Chance Comanche led all Arizona scorers with 14 points and eight rebounds.

Arizona’s defense set the tone in the game’s opening minutes. At the first media timeout with 15:45 to go in the first half, the Lobos had not scored their first points of the game. The Wildcats held the Lobos to an 0-for-9 shooting performance, and got one block for both freshman Lauri Markkanen and junior Dusan Ristic.

The Wildcats didn’t let up after the timeout and it took until the 14-minute mark for the Lobos to get on the board. Arizona stretched out its lead to 20-6 halfway through the half and the Lobos struggled to find any open looks.

Arizona continued to receive open shots from deep going 4-of-10 from three-point range in the first half. All seven scholarship players scored for the Wildcats, largely because of the guard play from the Arizona backcourt. The Wildcats made 14 shots in the first half and had seven assists on those baskets.

Arizona kept its foot on the pedal throughout the half and stretched out their lead to as much as 22 in the half, and their 21-point halftime lead was the second largest this season.

The Wildcats got off to a sluggish start in the second half and only scored once in the opening five minutes. The Lobos were unable to capitalize as their shooting woes continued. The Lobos finished the game shooting 27 percent, a season low, and connected on only 2-13 three-point attempts.

Freshman Rawle Alkins recorded a double-double on the night scoring 13 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Alkins continues to be one of Arizona’s best rebounders, even as mostly a perimeter player.

Markkanen was able to reach double digits for the 12th time this season. Despite having one of his worst nights as a shooter so far at Arizona (4-11 FG, 2-7 from 3-pointer), Markkanen was still able to score 13 points and came just one rebound shy of a double-double.

Arizona had four players in double figures on the night, and one of those Wildcats was sophomore center Chance Comanche. Comanche finished with 14 points and eight rebounds on 6-6 shooting. It was his best offensive performance as a Wildcat and his 14 points are a new career high. Head coach Sean Miller has hinted over the past few weeks that some of Comanche’s recent struggles were due to confidence. Tonight, Comanche was able to break through and cut it loose.

“I think I just really cleared my head and just told myself to play basketball, your team needs you,” Comanche said. “They saw me when I was open and I just tried to capitalize when I caught it and things turned out right.”

Miller called tonight’s game for Comanche his best this season and “maybe in two seasons.” Miller believes it was important that Comanche proved to himself that he was capable of such a performance.

“He showed not only all of us but himself, that in a process things don’t all of the sudden happen right away,” Miller said. “You have to go through the bumps that come with a bigger role. Just watching his energy, he needed some confidence and I think he’s filled with it here right now.”

Arizona played a near perfect game, but had turnover issues in spurts throughout the second half. The Wildcats turned the ball over 16 times in the game, including a stretch of four turnovers in three minutes. Arizona surrendered 14 offensive rebounds to the Lobos, but they could not capitalize only scoring nine second chance points.

At the end of the night, the box score was lopsided. The Lobos were held to under 30 percent shooting from the floor and Arizona dominated down low outrebounding the Lobos 49-30.

Arizona has a 10-day break before they open Pac-12 conference play. Arizona players have the next four days off before returning to practice on Christmas night. Miller believes that he has prepped his players for this type of break, and that there are no excuses for them when they arrive back in Tucson.

“I certainly am not going to worry about it,” Miller said. “Eventually you have to come to grips as a coach that we have a terrific program, that we treat our players the right way, that they have to really buy in to being a part of something bigger than their own goal’s and dreams.”

The Pac-12 schedule is one of the toughest in the nation, and with Arizona’s newcomers, it is an entirely new ballgame.

“You really never know until you get in [Pac-12 play], it’s more difficult, especially when your first two games are on the road,” Miller said. “One peace of mind that I have is that we have played a number of different styles and teams.”

Arizona finished the out of conference season at 11-2 and with the myriad of injuries and situations that affected the team, 11-2 is a good number for Miller.

“I like the fact that we are 11-2, I really do,” Miller said. “I think considering the circumstances, I think all of us feel like a job well done for our group. Now it comes down to how much we can improve and how much better we can become during the next stretch.”

The Wildcats open the conference schedule in Berkeley where they will face the California Golden Bears on December 30th at 9 p.m. on ESPN2.

Follow Christopher Deak on Twitter.

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