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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona fights off Sun Devils, finish regular season tied for Pac-12 regular season crown

Tempe–All season long, Arizona freshman Lauri Markkanen has made the big plays on offense for the Wildcats. On Saturday afternoon against ASU, Markkanen made the big plays he’s used to making, except this time they came on the defensive end and led No. 7 Arizona to a share of the Pac-12 regular season crown in Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe.

With 10:22 remaining in the game, the Wildcats held a 49-40 edge over ASU, but the game was far from over. The Sun Devils’ Shannon Evans drove to the hoop and challenged Markkanen with his left hand. Markkanen proceeded to brutally swat the ball in to the hands of Kadeem Allen who quickly pushed the ball up the court. Markkanen finished with three blocks on the day, and teammate Allonzo Trier thought all three blocks were key for Arizona.

“I think those were some of the best blocks I’ve ever seen,” Trier said. “It did a great job of changing the game for us and it actually shifted momentum for us in a big way. Usually we see it on offense [from Markkanen] but defensively he changed the game. I’m proud of him, happy for him.”

No. 7 Arizona (27-4, 16-2 Pac-12) closed out their season with a 73-60 victory over the Sun Devils. Trier led the Wildcats with 19 points.

It was senior day for the Arizona State seniors, and during their final introductions at Wells Fargo Arena, they were treated to a chorus of “U of A” chants. Like their fans, the Wildcats overwhelmed the Sun Devils early on. Arizona had control of the game early with a 16-7 lead, but the Sun Devils refused to go away.

ASU struggled from the field and on the glass all afternoon, but with Arizona in foul trouble early, the Sun Devils hung around all the way in to the second half.

The Wildcats took the lead on their opening possession and they led for nearly the entire first half. The Sun Devils started 2-7 from the field, and Arizona quickly built up a 16-7 lead eighth minutes in to the first half. ASU was struggling to find open looks, but the Wildcats got in to foul trouble, and the Sun Devils were able to sneak back in to the game.

Freshmen Lauri Markkanen and Kobi Simmons each picked up a pair of fouls early in the first half, and the Wildcats were forced to send both players to the bench.

ASU took advantage going on a 10-2 run that brought the game within a point with eight minutes to play in the first half.

Sun Devil senior Torian Graham gave ASU their first lead of the afternoon, draining a 3-pointer with 3:51 to go, forcing Arizona head coach Sean Miller to burn a timeout.

The Wildcats clawed back to take a one-point lead with 15 seconds left in the first half and took a one-point lead in to halftime.

For all of Arizona’s struggles on the offensive end on Saturday, their reliable defense kept the Sun Devils at bay.



ASU went 10-24 from the field in the first half, but they committed six turnovers and it cost them a chance to take a lead in to halftime. The Wildcats defense shifted in to another gear at the beginning of the second half, and was able to put just enough distance between themselves and the Sun Devils to hold on for their 27th victory of the season.

“I think our intensity level was really high coming out in the second half,” Trier said. “We really understood what was at stake for us. We wanted it really badly and I think it showed the way we came out in the second half and had a big surge.”Arizona opened the second half on a 10-0 run, and held the Sun Devils from scoring for nearly four minutes to open the second half. The Wildcat offense turned things around, while ASU was never able to settle in the second half, going 8-28 (29 percent) in the final 20 minutes.

The Wildcat offense went 12-27 44 percent) in the second half, and a Rawle Alkins’ 3-point play put Arizona up 65-49 with 4:33 to go. Alkins finished with a career-high 15 rebounds to go along with his 11 points. Alkins has been one of the Wildcats’ most consistent players all season, and he prides himself on his versatility.

“Honestly, I don’t even think about scoring the ball as a main focus,” Alkins said. “I try to do whatever it takes to win. I don’t want to be known as a one-dimensional player. I want to be known as a guy who can do it all.”

The Wildcats were able to maintain their lead in the final five minutes and completed their season sweep of the Sun Devils.

The Wildcats have wrapped up a share of the Pac-12 regular season crown, and it is the fourth time Arizona has won the Pac-12 regular season crown under Miller.

When Miller was asked if this title was sweeter than the rest, he wasted no time with his answer.

Yes,” Miller said. “Especially because of what we overcame. This one really stand apart from the others because we didn’t have great experience, we had to go all the way to 16-2 in a very, very good conference especially at the top. Then you have to end it after losing a home game against UCLA, a very emotional game and bounce back here at ASU.”

Arizona heads to Las Vegas and will being play in the Pac-12 Tournament on Thursday, March 9th.


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