30 minutes had passed since the final buzzer sounded, but Lauri Markkanen was still on the court.
The 7-footer emerged from the locker room after the Arizona Wildcats’ 64-54 win over Grand Canyon and headed right for the free throw line in a deserted McKale Center.
“When you’re a 90 percent free throw shooter and you miss free throws, it can steal your mind,” head coach Sean Miller said.
Evidently, Markkanen’s mind was stolen and all he could think about was the four missed free throws that he clanked off the rim earlier that night.
“He just has to move on,” Miller said. “It’s not going to be a perfect season from the beginning to the end.”
Early on, a “perfect season” looked like a possibility. Markkanen was averaging 18.3 points and 7.6 rebounds per game through Arizona’s first seven games.
However, in Arizona’s last four games, Markkanen is averaging 12.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per contest.
On Wednesday night against GCU, Markkanen had his worst game as a Wildcat.
In 35 minutes, he scored 11 points (on 3-12 shooting), missed four of five 3-point attempts, and half of his eight free throw attempts.
Miller downplayed the struggles.
“If he makes his free throws, he had 15 and eight,” Miller said of Markkanen. “Where he struggled was on a couple drives late I thought he lost his confidence.”
Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that Markkanen’s downturn coincides with Parker Jackson-Cartwright’s absence. Arizona’s starting point guard has missed the last four games, which is exactly when Markkanen’s production started to dip.
Not only has Arizona lost its best distributor — who Markkanen was often the beneficiary of — Jackson-Cartwright’s absence has left the Wildcats with seven available scholarship players.
The short bench has forced Miller to tinker with players’ roles, and Markkanen has been no exception.
“In fairness to Lauri, he plays the 3 for us,” Miller said after the Grand Canyon game. “I mean, there aren’t 7-footers unless you’re my guy from the New York Knicks [Kristaps] Porzingis, I mean there’s nobody that does that. You can’t be 7-foot and use ball screens and dribble, but that’s the position that he plays for us because we have three guards. So in fairness to him...he’s not in a position to be at his best because of our situation and I thought that showed a little bit tonight.”
Simply, Markkanen has been thrown into the fire on both ends of the floor and sometimes he’s going to get burned.
“He’s having to guard shooters, small guards, post players, and we’re asking him to do everything and he just got here,” Miller said.
With Markkanen still being a freshman — and still adjusting to the ins and outs of the college game — an off game here and there is to be expected.
But he’s now had two off games in a row. Time to worry?
“He’ll get through that. He’ll be better,” Miller said. “He’s a very, very talented player...He’ll be back. I think he’ll play great on Saturday.”
You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire for more Arizona basketball coverage.