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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Men’s basketball notebook: Wildcats struggle from 3; freshmen prove to be leaders in win over Sacred Heart

The No. 10 Arizona men’s basketball team had a field day Friday night against Sacred Heart and knocked off the Pioneers 95-65 in McKale Center to push the Wildcats to 3-0 on the season.

Arizona head coach Sean Miller said that despite the Wildcats playing against lenient teams early on, the team begins starting to develop who will have essential roles moving forward by experimenting with different lineups.

From causing 17 turnovers to shooting 16 percent from 3-point range, the Wildcats still have some work to do. But even without Allonzo Trier, the Wildcats are starting to find their groove. 

Kadeem Allen

Arizona senior guard Kadeem Allen returned after being held out for one game with a left knee sprain that he suffered against Michigan State in Honolulu. The combo guard who’s been playing more off the ball returned to the rotation and was limited to five minutes.

Miller said that Allen’s return wasn’t a rushed move, but more of a rehab to keep the grease on the wheels.

“The reason that he has, he’s not going to get further behind—he’s not going to take a step backwards by going out there,” Miller said. “Clearly he wasn’t 100 percent tonight so we gave him a try and when the lead got big, we kept him out of the game.”

3-point struggles

With so many offensive weapons especially on the perimeter with Allen returning from injury, Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins, it sounds uncharacteristic for the Wildcats to struggle from beyond the arc.

Arizona shot 1-of-10 from the 3-point-line in the first half and ended the game shooting 3-of-19. Outside of Lauri Markkanen’s pair of 3s, Parker Jackson-Cartwright was the only Wildcat to connect.

“Some nights they’re not gonna’ fall, … we’ll get better,” Jackson-Cartwright said.

The Wildcats have shot 31 percent on the season and Miller said it’s the team’s job to locate Markkanen, considering his skill set as a shooting big. 

Freshmen, once again

With the rotation taking a hit with injuries and questionable situations like Trier’s, Miller’s best recruiting class’ expectations grew even larger. Now, the freshmen are the core of the team and are finding themselves in rhythms early on in the season.

Markkanen went 7-of-12 from the field with 22 points while Simmons and Alkins went a combined 12-of-25 with 32 points. Alkins went 4-of-6 from the 3-point line against Cal-State Bakersfield on Tuesday, but focused on getting to the bucket and drawing fouls against Sacred Heart.

Alkins shot 8-of-9 from the charity stripe, and Miller said it was “unusual” for Simmons to not go to the line. But the guard had three steals on the night, so there was contribution from the trio all around. 

Dusan Ristic

The first two games were a nightmare for center Dusan Ristic, who had 8 points and 8 rebounds in 39 minutes combined. Ristic, alongside Markkanen, was supposed to be a one-two, inside-and-out team in the frontcourt. But Markkanen stole his shine to open the season.

Ristic ended Friday with 13 points, 15 rebounds, two blocks, two steals and shot 60 percent from the field. Although he struggled out of the gate, he never lost his mojo just as long as the Wildcats were victorious in the end.

“This is a game where I feel better after, but I played pretty bad the first two games,” Ristic said. “My confidence didn’t go down because I worked so hard in the offseason and we won. We won the first two games, so I wasn’t really concerned.” 

Return of the rebound

The Wildcats were the longer team against CSU-Bakersfield on Tuesday, but Arizona only out-rebounded the Roadrunners 32-28. CSUB out-rebounded the Wildcats on the offensive glass 10-8, so the Wildcats’ rebounding was suspect heading into Friday.

The doubts were put away, because Arizona out-rebounded Sacred Heart 46-35 and 15-11 on the offensive glass. The frontcourt rotation of Ristic, Markkanen, Chance Comanche and Keanu Pinder combined for 29 rebounds and was active all night. 

Shaqtin’ a fool

McKale Center is known for having NBA players roaming inside, and that’s because most of them are former UA players. Last season, New York Knicks point guard Derrick Rose made a surprise appearance and the Wildcats got another reputable guest in attendance against Sacred Heart on Friday.

Arizona hosted 6-foot-8 power forward and five-star junior Shareef O’Neal—who is the son of NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal—for an unofficial visit.

Shareef is also considering Baylor, Georgetown, UCLA and LSU, where the “Big Cactus” played.

What’s next?

Arizona will take the weekend off and prepare for Northern Colorado on Monday at 7 p.m. in McKale Center.

Follow Justin Spears on Twitter.

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