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Arizona basketball overcomes slow start, squeaks by Chico State 78-70 in final exhibition game

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Chico State was up by 12 at one point, but Arizona managed to turn things around

NCAA Basketball: Southern California at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

That was a little too close for comfort.

The Arizona Wildcats overcame a slow start to beat Chico State 78-70 on Sunday afternoon in McKale Center.

Corey Silverstrom sank a 3-pointer with 9:43 left in the first half to put the Chico State Wildcats up 29-17, as Arizona struggled defensively to begin the game, leaving shooters open and being unable to finish off possessions with rebounds.

However, Arizona closed the half on an 18-11 run to make it a 40-37 Chico State lead at halftime.

Arizona then got off to quick start in the second half, starting on a 16-4 run, but Chico State kept things close, making it a 58-57 Arizona lead with roughly nine minutes left after a deep 3-pointer by Silverstrom.

That was as close as Chico State would get, though, as Arizona would eventually hold onto to win, outscoring Chico State 41-30 in the second half.

Lauri Markkanen led Arizona in scoring and rebounding with 21 points and seven rebounds, while Kadeem Allen and Dusan Ristic added 15 and 14 points, respectively.

Parker Jackson-Cartwright led Arizona in assists with six, while Allen had four.

Here are some takeaways from the game:

3-point shooting is a major weakness

Aside from Markkanen, who shot 3-4 from 3, the rest of Arizona’s roster shot 0-8 from behind the arc.

Kobi Simmons, Allen, Rawle Alkins, and Jackson-Cartwright all missed a pair of 3s, some of which were wide open looks. As a team, Arizona is 4-24 from 3 through its two exhibition games, and Markkanen has made three of them.

Hey, Arizona did hit a high percentage of its free throws, shooting 31-36 from the line against Chico State.

Rebounding is also a weakness

Chico State outrebounded Arizona 30-28, and both Wildcat teams tracked down seven offensive boards, which shouldn’t happen when one team is a preseason top-10 team.

It’s not really a surprise, though.

Even before Comanche got suspended, there was a strong possibility that Arizona would have fits rebounding the ball. The UA lost two players in Ryan Anderson and Kaleb Tarczewski that had rebounding percentages approaching 20 percent, and didn’t have obvious options to replace that production.

Markkanen, who didn’t record a single rebound in the first half, and Ristic don’t do their best work on the glass, to say the least, while Pinder is tenacious, but undersized.

Not to mention that Arizona’s guards aren’t anything spectacular on the boards.

If Comanche is out for an extended period of time, the Wildcats are going to need a team-effort on the glass, and even that might not be enough against bigger teams.

Wildcats only played seven players

With Allonzo Trier (unspecified) and Chance Comanche (academics) missing another game, we got to see an Arizona team with just seven scholarship players available to play.

Sean Miller said after the College of Idaho win that walk-ons would have to be ready to contribute, but it turned out to be a false alarm as we didn’t see a single one check in.

Dusan Ristic, Lauri Markkanen, Rawle Alkins, Kadeem Allen, and Parker Jackson-Cartwright started, while Keanu Pinder and Kobi Simmons were the two reserves.

Ristic and Jackson-Cartwright got into foul trouble in the first half, but Arizona was able to work through it. That won’t always be the case when Arizona is facing better competition, though.

With Comanche out, Miller is having to stagger the minutes of Ristic and Markkanen more often, and supplementing them with Keanu Pinder.

The biggest concern that came along with that Markkanen-Pinder front court was their rebounding ability.

Keanu Pinder continues to produce

Perhaps no player has been impacted more by the Ray Smith injury and recent suspensions than Pinder, as he went from “the forgotten man” to one of Arizona’s most productive and used players.

Pinder finished with eight points (4-6 shooting) and six rebounds, showing off some skill in the paint.

Pinder has quickly become one of Arizona’s most reliable players on both ends of the floor.

The only problem having Pinder play significant minutes presents is that he doesn’t space the floor, as he rarely extends past the elbow unless he’s setting a high-screen.

When Pinder is on the floor with Ristic, it clogs the paint for Arizona’s guards. When Pinder is out there with Markkanen, it’s a bit more feasible, but not ideal.

With Smith sidelined, Arizona now doesn’t have the ability to use Markkanen alongside another big that can stretch the floor, which is something I was really looking forward to seeing this year.

Oh well.

McKale Center crowd is in preseason form too

The ZonaZoo was about half-full at tipoff, and that never really changed as the game transpired. And there were plenty of open seats in other sections.

Those that were in attendance were pretty tame aside from a few spurts here and there, but overall it just seemed like the enthusiasm for Arizona basketball has waned significantly with the recent injuries and suspensions.

That said, it was also an exhibition game in the middle of the afternoon on a Sunday, so it’s probably nothing to worry about.

Comanche will likely be back versus Michigan State

Miller said after the game that, if all things check out in the next few days, Comanche will be with the team on Friday when they take on Michigan State.

That’s good news, at least.


You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire