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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Lauri Markkanen continues to struggle against Cardinal, staring down freshman wall

UAs+Lauri+Markkanen+gets+swatted+at+by+Stanfords+Marcus+Allen+%2815%29+during+the+UA-Stanford+game+on+Feb.+8.+UA+won+against+Stanford+74-67.
Simon Asher

UA’s Lauri Markkanen gets swatted at by Stanford’s Marcus Allen (15) during the UA-Stanford game on Feb. 8. UA won against Stanford 74-67.

Coming into Wednesday’s matchup with Stanford, freshman Lauri Markkanen was the key cog in a dangerous Arizona Wildcats machine. But superman has apparently been hit with kryptonite because Markkanen has struggled the past couple games, causing the Wildcats to stumble as well. 

Through most of the game against the Cardinal, Markkanen was lost, unable to find his shot, going 2-for-9 from the field and 2-for-7 from the 3-point line. 

Even getting to the free throw line didn’t help as he missed both of his attempts early in the second half.

Visibly frustrated and out of tune, Markkanen settled in and tried to let the game come to him, but he struggled to find his rhythm all night. 

Sometimes the ball just doesn’t find its way to you, but Markkanen was also ineffective rebounding and wasn’t a factor on the defensive end, evidenced by the huge night for Stanford forward Reid Travis who finished with 26 points and 11 rebounds. 

To be fair, every Arizona big man struggled against the Cardinal’s leading scorer.

“Tonight was the first time that I felt that his confidence was a little shaken,” said Arizona head coach Sean Miller when asked about Markkanen’s recent struggles. “Lauri is going to get out of it. He has to also be able to do some other things. We played him 28 minutes and he had two defensive rebounds; he’s seven feet. You have to go get the ball, you can’t play 28 minutes and get a total of three rebounds.”

Markkanen came into the game off of his worst shooting performance of the year at Oregon, scoring only four points on 1-for-5 shooting. The game before that, eight points on 1-of-6 shooting against a winless Oregon State Beaver team in Corvallis.

From all accounts the freshman wall has been hit.

“I don’t know any player that hasn’t had a streak where they haven’t shot the ball great,” said Wildcats guard Allonzo Trier. “…that doesn’t mean were not going to keep going to him, we trust him, we believe in him…he’ll be just fine.”

However, even superman finds a way to battle through adversity and Markkanen did such by hitting a key three with the score tied at 67 to give the Wildcats a 3-point lead with 1:37 left in the game. It was a big time shot at huge moment, a moment only the best of the best have the nerve to take advantage of when faced with a drought such as Markkanen’s.

Everything had been going against him—his rhythm, his swagger and his confidence—but he still managed to muster enough will to shoot the final 3 that cemented Stanford’s fate. A lot of players wouldn’t have done that; a lot of players would have passed that opportunity up, but Lauri Markkanen is not like a lot of players. This is one reason why.

“He’ll get better through this,” Miller said. “I have no doubt he is going to snap out of it.”

The lead held until the 23 second mark when Trier extended it to five with a couple of free throws.

Lost in that transition was a key defensive play by Markkanen as he came over to help teammate Chance Comanche as Travis penetrated to the basket to try and pull the Cardinal close. Markkanen’s aid helped alter the shot and Arizona held on for a 74-67 victory.

Markkanen scored 5 of the Wildcats’ final 9 points and finished with 8 points on 2-of-9 shooting.

The best players in the world struggle, but Markkanen’s key plays down the stretch of the game are a reminder of why he is a potential lottery pick and his play is what ultimately may decide what Arizona’s future is in the upcoming postseason.


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