Friday was just another night for Lauri Markkanen.
The 7-foot Finnish big man dropped 22 points on just 11 shots, hitting two 3s, a fadeaway jumper, several shots in the paint, and all six of his free throw attempts as the Arizona Wildcats beat Sacred Heart 95-65.
“That was about as easy of a 22-point night as I’ve seen,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said after the game.
Scoring 22 points isn’t supposed to be easy, but it has been for Markkanen. The big man is averaging 20.3 points per game and shooting nearly 60 percent from the field through three games with Arizona — all while playing multiple positions.
The freshman has taken college basketball by storm.
“Lauri Markkanen is one of the best offensive frontcourt players in the country,” Miller declared. “We have a big mismatch at times and he has the ability to shoot the basketball. As a big guy, that’s not common.”
And that’s not all he can do.
“He can put it on the floor, he’s a great free throw shooter...He guards perimeter players, he guards post players. He plays three positions for us,” Miller said.
In Miller’s terms, Markkanen is a “monster.”
Yet, despite how dominant he’s been, Miller thinks Arizona can — and needs to — get even more out of the 7-footer, and the solution to do that is pretty simple.
Get him the basketball.
“It’s up to us to find him, and you just can’t play as if he’s just a normal big guy out there,” Miller said. “He just happens to be a tremendous player, and when he’s open, especially as a frontcourt player, we have to recognize that that’s one of the strengths of our team, that’s one of the strengths of our offense. We all understand that we’re looking for him.”
Arizona shot 3-19 as a team from 3-point range against Sacred Heart, but Markkanen held his own, making two of the five he attempted — just another reason he should’ve gotten the ball more.
“Because he didn’t have a bad day from 3, he needed to get a couple more good looks,” Miller said. “There were times when he was open and the ball didn’t find him. And then all of a sudden it did and he went on his own personal 8-0 run.”
Miller called November “a learning month” in that coaches are still trying to figure out which combinations of players are effective, while the players are still learning the system and each other’s tendencies.
There’s still a lot to learn, but at this point it’s clear that Markkanen, who’s taking nearly 11 shots per game, needs more touches.
“Learning his value on offense and allowing other people to play off of him, that’s our responsibility as a coaching staff and his teammates,” Miller said. “And Lauri’s efficient, he’s not going to take bad shots...It’s just up to us to make sure he gets good looks.”
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