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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Arizona off to Sweet Sixteen after 69-60 victory over Saint Mary’s

SALT LAKE CITY — The Arizona Wildcats are heading to their fourth Sweet Sixteen in five years after taking down the Saint Mary’s Gaels 69-60 on Saturday night. The Wildcats trailed at halftime and had to fight their way back in to the game, but were able to prevail in the end against a tough Saint Mary’s team.

“I look at this as one of the great wins we’ve had in the tournament because of the team that we beat,” said Arizona head coach Sean Miller. “We respect them a great deal.”

If you asked Saint Mary’s head coach Randy Bennett to draw up what his perfect first half looked like, he may not have drawn up something as good as the Gaels’ first 16 minutes. The Gaels’ led Arizona for the entire first half but allowed the Wildcats to get back in it late. 

The Wildcats struggled shooting the basketball after scoring 100 points on Thursday and they shot just 34 percent in the first half and went 1-7 from 3-point range.

Saint Mary’s deliberate style of play forced Arizona’s defense to defend for nearly 30 seconds during every possession. Junior center Jock Lansdale scored a 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds, and the Wildcats had no answer for his presence on offense.

“He hurt us inside but not really one-on-one but from those tip-ins and rebounds,” said Arizona center Dusan Ristic said. “That was the reason he scored 12 points in the first half. In the second half, even though he made some [baskets], we did a better job of defending him.”

While Ristic struggled on defense against the Gaels’ big man, he made up for it on the offensive end scoring six points, all over Landale.

Freshman Rawle Alkins left the floor midway through the first half with an apparent finger injury. Alkins sustained a small fracture to his right index finger in the middle of a play, leading to a wide open Gaels 3-point shot, and he immediately headed to the locker room. Alkins has been one of Arizona’s most consistent players as of late and without him, the Wildcats looked shaken.

“I think midway through the first half, especially when Rawle got injured, we lost our confidence for a little bit, we really did,” Miller said.

With Alkins in the locker room, the Gaels’ took advantage. They stretched their lead out to 24-14 with 4:43 to play in the half, but their slow tempo would come back to bite them.

The Wildcats were able to survive a stretch of just over seven minutes without scoring a field goal that ended when junior guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright knocked down the Wildcats’ first 3-pointer of the half with 3:04 to go. The Gaels’ failed to capitalize during the seven-minute stretch, and it cost them a bigger halftime lead.

Alkins re-entered the game with five minutes to play and though he only scored six points in the ball game, his impact on both ends helped Arizona pull away in the second half.

“When you [get injured] as a freshman and you’re in the NCAA tournament, and you leave the game, No. 1, it’s not easy to come back into the game, but to come back in the game and play well, says a lot about Rawle,” Miller said.

Alkins said he had never had any type of injury besides cramps during his playing career and noted how anxious he was to get back out on the court while he was talking to trainers and doctors. As for the rest of the tournament, expect Alkins to be on the floor.

“It was like my right finger was a left finger,” Alkins said. “It was exactly like Kadeem [Allen’s] [finger injury]. The doctor popped it back in and did an x-ray to see if it was broken. Luckily, it was a minor fracture, it should be good.”

The first ten minutes of the second half was the type of basketball that can affect any fans’ blood pressure. There were seven lead changes and with 10 minutes to go, it seemed like the game was destined to come down to the final few minutes.

But the Wildcats continued their streak of big offensive second halves and it was too eventually much for Saint Mary’s.

The Wildcats shot 59 percent in the second half and got a big performance from Allonzo Trier.

Trier had one of his worst performances of the season in the first half scoring no points on 0-4 shooting. But as all good scorers do, Trier kept looking for his shot. The sophomore poured in all 14 of his points in the final 20 minutes, sparking the Wildcats’ offense.

“I almost feel like the difference in the game was his offensive outburst maybe midway through the second half, he regained his confidence,” Miller said. “And when he’s confident offensively our team is a lot better.”

After Ristic and Comanche struggled to deal with Landale in the first half, Markkanen got his crack at the Gaels’ center in the second. Advantage Markkanen.

The Finnish big man was able to slow down Landale and put up two huge blocks on the Australian big man. Markkanen posted a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds and his 3-point shot with 3:29 to go gave Arizona a 61-55 lead.

“He did a great job defending Landale,” Ristic said. “Those two blocks were huge for us.”

Miller called Landale a “heck of player” in his postgame remarks and said that after his huge first half, the Wildcats keyed in on shutting him down.

“I’m going to say he had maybe five of his eight field goals in the first 8 minutes of the game. If you look at the rest of the game, we did a much better job against him,” Miller said.

Landale had five field goals in the first eight minutes, but to Miller’s credit, it sure seemed like five.

The Gaels could not get the “big shot” they needed to grab momentum in the final five minutes and Arizona punched their ticket to the Sweet Sixteen with a nine-point win. Allen, Arizona’s only senior, finished the night with 12 points. His steal that turned in to breakaway dunk with 12:30 to go fired up the Arizona bench and knotted the game up at 44.

Every game could be his last for Allen and the importance of Arizona’s win on Saturday is not lost on the Wildcats’ senior leader.

“It feels great being able to go to the Sweet Sixteen with the adversity we faced, nobody probably though we would be in this situation,” Allen said. “We just hung in there, kept fighting, like all year we never let up. We kept fighting and came out on top.”

Arizona will face the No. 11 seed Xavier Musketeers in the Sweet Sixteen on Thursday.

Follow Christopher Deak on Twitter 

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