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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Arizona basketball Red-Blue Game gives glimpse of future in more ways than one

Rebecca Noble / The Daily Wildca
Arizona guard Kobi Simmons (2) soars up to the basket in the slam dunk contest during the red and blue scrimmage at McKale Center on Friday, Oct. 14, 2016.

College basketball may be a little less than a month away, but if you were in McKale Center on Friday night, one of the more anticipated seasons in recent memory began a little early.

Wildcat fans gathered to attend the sold-out annual McDonald’s Red-Blue game and honor the 1997 team that won the NCAA men’s basketball championship. The ’97 squad was introduced before the game, and at halftime brought out the championship trophy to the delight of the McKale Center crowd.

The night started with a dunk contest won by freshman Rawle Alkins. Alkins got things going by dunking over head coach Sean Miller. Alkins had Miller place a ball over his head, having Alkins leap over him for an incredible behind-the-head two-handed jam. A perfect score of 50 had the crowd, and the Wildcats themselves, in a frenzy. It was the first time Miller has ever participated in the dunk contest, and it took some coaxing from Alkins.

“[Rawle] started to talk to me about this about a month ago,” Miller said. “I told Rawle ‘I’ll do it on one condition, if you let me coach you really hard on defense and make you play defense, I’ll do it.’ He said, ‘deal.’”

Most of the player’s dunk attempts were adventurous to say the least. Freshman Kobi Simmons had a chance to win the contest on his last attempt, but could not complete a ridiculous behind-the-back dunk off of a self lob.

The game itself featured the premiere of freshman big-man Lauri Markkanen, and he made sure to leave his mark. Markkanen led the way for the Blue team, scoring 14 points and grabbing seven rebounds. He also went 2-3 from three-point range displaying the versatility that has fans and scouts so excited about the young Finnish prospect.

Markkanen scored inside, outside and on the pick-and-pop. Junior guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright talked about how comforting it is to have a player with that type of shot-making capability.

“I mean if he’s open, it’s going in every time,” Jackson-Cartwright said on Markkanen’s pick-and-pop abilities.

Jackson-Cartwright had a night of his own, showing how much growth he has made in his two seasons in Tucson. He finished with only four points but added a game-high seven assists. Jackson-Cartwright was in complete control all night and all of the Red team’s offense went through him. 

Simmons lined up for the Blue team, and it’s clear that Simmons and Jackson-Cartwright will battle it out for playing time at the point guard spot.

Other top performers on the night were Dusan Ristic and Allonzo Trier, who finished with 16 points a piece. Ray Smith finished with 10 points in his return from an ACL injury that kept him out all of last year.

The McDonald’s Red-Blue game is a scrimmage, so any takeaways have to be taken with a grain of salt. The intensity of the game is somewhere in between what you see in the NBA All-Star game and a preseason game. 

The Wildcats struggled shooting the ball for most of the night and both teams combined to go 5-19 from beyond the arc. The interior defense and rebounding was also lacking, but it’s tough to gage how hard the players were competing in the paint.

After the game, Arizona great Miles Simon had his jersey recognized in McKale Center. Simon addressed the crowd and the Arizona legend received multiple standing ovations. 

He took the time to thank his father, high school coach, former Arizona head coach Lute Olson, his teammates and the crowd who he called “the best fans in the nation.” His number 34 jersey was unveiled and will forever hang from the rafters of McKale center.

The Arizona basketball season is officially underway and, per usual, the expectations in Tucson are for this team to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats are young and inexperienced, but with the right mix of returning players and freshmen talent, this team certainly has the make-up to win Arizona’s second national championship. 

Follow Chris Deak on Twitter.

Video Courtesy of Pac-12 Networks.

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