Behind 26 points from Lauri Markkanen, the Arizona Wildcats won their second-straight game on Tuesday night, knocking off Cal State Bakersfield 78-66 in McKale Center to move to 2-0 on the season.
Markkanen shot 8-11 from the field, sank nine free throws, and grabbed eight rebounds in the Wildcats’ victory.
Arizona shot 57 percent from the field in the first half and led the Roadrunners 44-26 at the break, but CSUB made things too close for comfort in the second half.
Arizona led by as many as 21 points in the second half, but CSUB strung together a 17-0 run at one point, cutting Arizona’s lead from 53-32 to 53-49.
But Chance Comanche drew a flagrant foul, knocked down the free throw, and then Markkanen hit a 3 on the ensuing possession to push Arizona’s lead back to 57-49.
CSUB made it a 59-54 game with 6:07 left in regulation, but that’s as close as the Roadrunners would get.
Markkanen scored 14 of his 26 points in the second half.
Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons also scored in double figures, pouring in 15 and 13 points, respectively.
Jaylin Airington led the Roadrunners with 31 points, 26 of which were scored in the second half.
Kadeem Allen (knee) and Allonzo Trier (unspecified) did not play. There has been no update on Trier’s status, but the UA said in a statement that Allen’s health will continue to be evaluated as the week goes on.
Here were the main takeaways from Arizona’s 12-point win:
Markkanen had a tremendous game offensively, scoring in a multitude of ways.
He hit a 3, made all nine free throw attempts, made shots off the dribble and in the paint — all while playing four positions.
There were many highlights from Markkanen, but the best one came early in the game when Markkanen took the ball coast-to-coast for a slam, taking advantage of CSUB’s full-court press.
He also had this block:
It’s only been two games a couple exhibitions, but it’s clear — if it wasn’t already — that Markkanen is the real deal and the best player on this Arizona team.
Another slow start
In Friday’s season-opening victory against Michigan State, Arizona fell behind 19-4 early in the first half.
Against CSUB, the Wildcats were trailing 10-3 after the first five minutes, and at one point, they had just as many turnovers as field goal attempts (4).
But, just like it did against Michigan State, Arizona was able to overcome the slow start, and finished the half on 41-16 run.
Rough second half
Arizona led by 18 at halftime and seemed like it would be able to cruise to victory, but the Roadrunners caught fire.
The Wildcats’ defense wasn’t sharp all night, and the Roadrunners did a much better job of taking advantage of it in the second half (in the first half Arizona benefitted from CSUB missing open 3s).
CSUB ended up outscoring Arizona 40-34 in the second half, and shot 50 percent from both the field (14-28) and the 3-point line (5-10).
Alkins gets acclimated
Rawle Alkins had a rough start to his tenure in Arizona, shooting just 1-4 from the field against Michigan State with as many turnovers as assists (2), but he flipped the script in the second game.
Alkins exploded in the first half, scoring 12 points and drilling three 3-pointers along with recording three assists and three rebounds.
Alkins was much quieter in the second half, finishing with 15 points, four rebounds, and three assists, but it was encouraging to see how well he shot the basketball.
Coming into the game, Alkins was 0-6 from behind the arc (including the two exhibition games), but he shot 4-6 from behind the arc against CSUB.
With the way he’s able to get to the rim, his ability to knock down shots from the perimeter is crucial to his overall effectiveness as a scorer.
Oh yeah, he can pass the ball too:
Walk-on makes an appearance
With Kadeem Allen, Allonzo Trier, and Ray Smith out, Arizona was down to seven scholarship players against CSUB.
Miller mentioned during the exhibition season that walk-ons would have to be ready to play, but we hadn’t seen them check in until Tuesday’s game.
With just under 13 minutes left in the first half, Paulo Cruz made a brief appearance. Arizona immediately outscored CSUB by five when Cruz checked in, giving the 6-foot-4 guard a legendary +5 plus-minus in his lone minute of play.
Arizona’s lack of depth — especially in the backcourt — forced Miller to use some wacky lineups, including one that was comprised of Kobi Simmons, Lauri Markkanen, Keanu Pinder, Chance Comanche, and Dusan Ristic. That’s right, Markkanen was playing 2-guard.
Predictably, it didn’t work well, especially defensively. Arizona got beat off the dribble and in transition, forcing Miller to scrap the idea.
Markkanen mentioned after the game that that was the first time he had ever played the 2.
— From a statistical perspective, it was an uneventful night for Keanu Pinder who finished with just four points and four rebounds in 21 minutes. Still, he had two blocks and was arguably Arizona’s best defensive player.
— Kobi Simmons didn’t shoot well from the perimeter or convert at the rim at a high rate, but his aggression going to the basket resulted in him taking 11 free throws, and he made eight of them, giving him a respectable 13 points on eight shots.
— Dusan Ristic had another lackluster game and Miller gave more minutes to Comanche, and understandably so. Ristic finished with six points and five rebounds in 21 minutes, while Comanche had eight points and four rebounds in 23 minutes. It wouldn’t be surprising if Comanche replaces Ristic in the starting lineup relatively soon, given Comanche’s prowess as a defender.
Here was the full box score:
Arizona returns to action Friday when it hosts Sacred Heart. Tipoff in McKale Center is set for 8 p.m. MT, and the game will be televised on the Pac-12 Network.