The Arizona Wildcats had their first true road game of the season on Saturday morning, heading to SEC territory to take on the Missouri Tigers.
On the surface, it did not at all go as planned. Lauri Markkanen only played 21 minutes and fouled out. The Wildcats shot 43% on two-pointers. Missouri shot 20 more free throws. Arizona had seven more turnovers. So many things that have been working in UA’s favor throughout the early part of this season just didn’t work out for the Wildcats in Missouri.
And yet, Arizona won. And it’s not like they won by the skin of their teeth. They clobbered the Tigers by 19, including a 21-0 run that spanned over seven minutes of the second half.
So, how did this happen? How in the world did Arizona manage to win in a blowout while having that much against them? Here’s three things we learned from this weirdly successful win...
SHOOT YOUR SHOT
Thirteen three-pointers! Thirteen! Rawle Alkins and Kadeem Allen each knocked down four threes. Kobi Simmons hit three. Markkanen chipped in two of his own. Those were the only four guys to take a three and they combined for 13-24 from long range.
As we’ve seen from these Wildcats, this was rather out of character. ESPN’s broadcast team made absolutely sure that the viewers knew that Arizona only averaged five three point makes per game. Missouri hung their hat on the fact that, coming into Saturday’s contest, they had the best three-point defense of anyone in the country.
Of all the ways that Arizona could have expected to beat Missouri, shooting over them from long distance with great success could not have been one of them. And yet, Arizona improved to 8-2 on the season behind the best shooting the Wildcats have exhibited all year.
While it would be fun to view this as a turning point for Arizona, it just wouldn’t be fair to expect this type of shooting performance regularly. The best possible takeaway from the way Arizona won this game is that the lack of shooting for this Wildcats squad has been exaggerated. The shooting is there. It’s just streaky. When the shots are falling, the Wildcats are in great shape. When they aren’t, the focus still needs to be on attacking the rim and forcing their way to the free throw line.
RAWLE IS ROLLIN’
Our own Ryan Kelapire tweeted mid-game that Rawle Alkins is on a run of games with at least 14 points. He added that he felt that’s being overlooked.
Well, he was right and Rawle Alkins can’t be ignored anymore.
Alkins was the best player on the floor on Saturday. He and Simmons led the team with 19 points apiece. Alkins added nine rebounds, an assist, and a steal.
Rawle is really coming into his own of late, as evidenced by the fact that he just had the best game of his young college career which happened to be in his first true road game. This is not a coincidence with Alkins. Toughness is the name of his game. Whether it’s the way he barrels down the lane, unafraid of contact or the way he shuts out the noise of his first road game and steals the show.
Saturday’s shooting performance may prove to be an outlier. But not Alkins’ overall performance. This was just a sign of things to come for Rawle.
Even if Saturday’s shooting was not an accurate representation of what to expect from the Wildcats — and even if Missouri is not exactly supposed to be world beaters themselves — there’s no way to not be impressed by this team.
Seven scholarship players and four of those seven had never worn an Arizona uniform before this season. Plenty of mistakes were made by the Wildcats on Saturday.
But despite being down several key guys and making mistakes, Arizona won by 19 on the road.
We’re a little over two weeks away from the beginning of conference play. There are several teams waiting in the Pac-12 that are superior to Missouri. But I think we learned on Saturday that this team is ready for any challenge that lies ahead.