Tuesday night, the Arizona Wildcats won their regular season home opener, as they defeated CSU Bakersfield, 78-66.
Arizona did so without its best defender as Kadeem Allen sat out with a sprained knee after his heroics in Honolulu.
This left the Wildcats with only seven scholarship players available to play on Tuesday night. Everyone needed to contribute and that they did. Here are three things we learned:
A common theme in the two Wildcats games thus far this season has been the huge number of free throws taken.
On Tuesday, Arizona shot 24 more free throw attempts than CSUB, following up a performance where they out-shot Michigan State by 18 at the line.
This is a big positive development for the Wildcats. Coming into the season, many wondered if this team would have the ability to shoot from distance. A lot of people pegged that as Arizona’s most glaring weakness. That problem hasn’t come to the surface yet. In two regular season games, the Cats have shot 12-28 from three.
That 12-28 statistic includes Rawle Alkins’ sharp shooting performance, knocking down 4-6 from three. One has to wonder if a performance like that is sustainable, as Alkins isn’t known for his jumpshot.
If it proves to be sustainable, that is a frightening thing for a guy so athletic to add to his game. But if it isn’t, Arizona’s habit of forcing their way to the free throw line is going to be a key to scoring in every single game this season.
Kobi Simmons didn’t replicate his stellar performance from the Michigan State game, but his aggression in attacking the rim led to 11 shots at the line, where he made eight. Lauri Markkanen also attacked and got to the line nine times, making all of them. More on him later.
This season, Arizona is +42 in free throws attempted and +35 in free throws made. After two games, Arizona is top ten in the nation in both those categories. If Arizona continues to be successful, look for those numbers to continue to skyrocket.
FOUL TROUBLE COULD MEAN BIG TROUBLE
Coming into the season, depth concerns may have been overstated. After all, Sean Miller generally likes to play an eight-man rotation. After Ray Smith’s injury and with Allonzo Trier’s mysterious on-court absence, that leaves exactly that — an eight-man rotation.
And clearly, that eight-man rotation is stocked with talent. Fans are well aware of what Allen, Parker-Jackson Cartwright, Dusan Ristic and Chance Comanche can do. JUCO transfer, Keanu Pinder, has shown that he’s a superior defender and rebounder. And, those three freshmen — Markkanen, Alkins and Simmons — well, they’re pretty good.
They combined for 54 of the 78 points scored last night. Yeah, pretty good.
But the victory over Bakersfield was a prime example of what can go wrong when relying on these eight guys and these eight guys only. Allen was forced to sit with his sprained knee, leaving Arizona with a seven-man rotation. The Wildcats led by 21 in the second half and appeared to be cruising to an easy win. But a nearly seven minute scoring drought cut that lead to four.
What happened in those seven minutes? Turnovers, second chance baskets and Arizona’s shots simply not falling. But the issue that could really hurt Arizona in the future — foul trouble.
Four Wildcats finished with four fouls last night. CSUB proved to be a streaky shooting team that can hurt you if they get it going. But if Arizona can give up 17 straight points to them at home, fans can only imagine what could happen when Arizona enters conference play.
As I mentioned after the Michigan State game, having active hands and being aggressive is a key component to the Arizona defense. Unfortunately, one of the risks when doing that is getting called for fouls. This team can’t afford to get into foul trouble. Four rotation players were on the brink of fouling out last night. Early foul trouble will be something to keep an eye on and could doom the Wildcats in the future.
Yes, that is a Lauri Markkanen/Mortal Kombat pun. No, I don’t regret it. Because he was dishing out flawless victories left and right last night.
I’ve mentioned Markkanen in the first two parts of this but I simply can’t not give him his own section.
That was about as good a performance as you can ask of literally any college basketball player in the nation. I mentioned his 9/9 performance from the line but Markkanen finished with 26 points on just 11 shot attempts. That’s outrageous. He also added eight rebounds and a block.
The writing is on the wall that this kid is a future lottery pick in the NBA Draft. Sean Miller himself called Markkanen “a monster,” in his post-game press conference. Miller isn’t prone to hyperbole, especially about his own players.
So what did we learn? Without Allonzo Trier, and perhaps even with him, Lauri Markkanen is the best player on this team. Markkanen is one of the best players in the nation. We may have already known those things.
But what we didn’t know is that Markkanen could very well be capable of the best Wildcats season since Derrick Williams in 2011. He’s THAT good.