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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: The Finnish army knife returns

Simon Asher

Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen looks to pass during the PAC12 quarterfinals against Colorado in Las Vegas, on Thursday, March 9. Arizona beat Colorado 92-78. 

LAS VEGAS — When freshman Lauri Markkanen knocked down his first 3-point shot on Thursday night, his first since Arizona’s road trip at Washington State, in the first half against Colorado in the quarterfinal of the Pac-12 Tournament, the immediate reaction was that the slump was over.

Markkanen went four consecutive games without hitting a shot from beyond the arc and then suddenly he sunk one and it’s as if he finally got out of whatever funk he was in.

Before Thursday it wasn’t as if Markkanen was irrelevant, because after all, Arizona wouldn’t be in the position it’s in right now if it weren’t for the 7-footer from Finland. It’s rather the outsiders such as the media, including myself, claiming he’s not the same draft pick that NBA scouts are drooling over.

“He’s been struggling a little bit and we just really wanted to get him going,” Jackson-Cartwright said. “It was good to see him make shots from three and hopefully he continues to do that.”

Head coach Sean Miller said the primary focus for Markkanen was to work more around the basket and develop a presence in the paint rather than just be a threat from deep. Markkanen finished Thursday with 20 points and shot 57 percent from 3-point range making it clear he wants to be all over the floor. He’s had at least five rebounds in every game since Arizona played at Washington State, but Thursday he only had three rebounds.

“I’m just trying to mix it up—not just behind the 3-point line and not just under the basket,” Markkanen said. “I try to be a versatile player.”

Markkanen especially caught fire in the second half and shot 75 percent from beyond the arc and scored 13 points. All Markkanen did (and it sounds cliché) was continue to shoot his shot.

“It never really left me, because I’ve been making them in practice so I knew the whole time that I have the ability. I just kept shooting with confidence, because I knew eventually it was going in,” Markkanen said.

Guard Kadeem Allen said the game plan for Arizona heading into the tournament was to find Markkanen and ensure his self-confidence remained in tact.

“That’s Lauri. That’s just what he does. He shoots the ball, he puts it on the floor, he makes plays and he makes others better,” Allen said. “He just went into the gym and kept shooting the ball. We just kept giving him confidence and he just stepped up and hit big threes. We know not many teams are going to switch off of him so we try to make the other teams pay by attacking with our guards.”

Once Markkanen’s confidence from deep appeared to return to its natural form, it just became a habit for Arizona to find. Whether he was trailing on a fastbreak or setting a screen for a pick and pop play, once one 3-pointer fell, the ‘Cats were confident in Markkanen knocking down a few more.

“He is a great shooter and by great shooter I really mean great shooter,” Jackson-Cartwright said. “They have games where it doesn’t go in and it happens. I always believe when he makes one, it could only go up from there and that’s what happened tonight.”

As Arizona moves towards the semi-final matchup against UCLA, Markkanen catching fire is music to Miller’s ears. And if he’s not working around the rim Friday, catch him outside how about that?

Follow Justin Spears on Twitter.

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