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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


No. 10 Arizona takes care of business against Sacred Heart

Alex McIntyre
Arizona guard Kobi Simmons dunks against Sacred Heart in McKale Center on Friday, Nov. 18. The Wildcats lead the Pioneers 49-25 at the half.

The No. 10 Arizona men’s basketball team improved to 3-0 on the season after defeating the Sacred Heart Pioneers 95-65 Friday night in McKale Center. Freshman Lauri Markkanen led the Wildcats with 22 points to go along with six rebounds.

The Wildcats had six players in double-figures and used their size to dominate the Pioneers in the low post. Arizona’s trio of freshmen combined for 54 points. Kobi Simmons had three steals to go along with his 14 points, and Markkanen had a steal of his own.

Dusan Ristic got the scoring going early and the Wildcats came his way often in the game’s first five minutes. Ristic had struggled early on this season, but remains the team’s starting center. Head coach Sean Miller stressed the importance of Ristic’s confidence to his game and got him going early.

Ristic had six points in the first five minutes of the game, and had two impressive assists making passes from the low post. Ristic registered the first double-double of the season for the Wildcats scoring 13 points to go along with 15 rebounds. Miller was pleased with the big man’s bounce back performance, and believes Ristic’s confidence will come with the more starts he gets.

“There’s a difference between starting and coming off the bench,” said Miller. “When you’re a starter you feel game pressure; you feel the intensity in the first four minutes. It takes you some time to get used to that feeling.”

Arizona aimed to utilize its size down low, and it worked to fruition. The Pioneers have a player listed at 6-foot-11, but the next tallest player on their roster comes in at 6-foot-7. Arizona’s big men dominated the night and outscored Sacred Heart 52-34 in the paint.

Freshman Rawle Alkins had another big night for Arizona finishing with 18 points and five rebounds. Alkins seems to be coming in to his own after some early struggles during Arizona’s exhibition slate.

Markkanen was impressive once again. He continues to showcase his versatility, and he utilized his size throughout the night. Markkanen has hit at least one 3-pointer in all three of Arizona’s games this season and knocked down two 3s in the second half against the Pioneers.

“Lauri Markkanen is one of the best offensive front court players in the country,” said Miller. “We have a big mismatch at times. He has the ability to shoot the basketball, for a big guy that’s not common. That was about as easy of a 22-point night as I’ve seen.”

Simmons filled the stat sheet recording 14 points, four rebounds, two assists and three steals. Simmons played the passing lanes well all night, and two of his steals led to break away dunks. Simmons’ combination of athleticism and quickness gives him the ability to jump passes on defense, but there is still a learning curve on the defensive end for the freshman. Quincy McKnight of Sacred Heart had 20 second half points against the Wildcats, mostly while Simmons was guarding him.

“Kobi is learning how to play college defense,” said Miller. “It’s not easy for a young freshman to guard a guy like McKnight.”

Arizona’s defensive efforts forced 17 turnovers throughout the night. The Wildcats scored 25 points off of turnovers and won the rebounding battle, 46-35.

November is a time for teams across the country to find their identity, and Miller and his staff are doing just that.

“There are some things I’m really excited about,” said Miller. “November is a month of learning. Players are learning, they’re learning each other, they’re learning our system, but the coaching staff is learning on what combos of players work well.”

Arizona’s next matchup is against Northern Colorado on Monday, Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. in McKale Center and will be aired on Pac-12 networks.

Follow Christopher Deak on Twitter.

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