Allonzo Trier scored a team-high 17 points and dished out a career-high seven assists in his first home game of the season as the No. 7 Arizona Wildcats beat the Washington State Cougars 79-62 on Thursday night in McKale Center.
With the win, Arizona improves to 19-2 overall and 8-0 in Pac-12 play. Washington State drops to 10-10 and 3-5 in conference play.
Lauri Markkanen, who knocked down four 3s, added 16 points and 13 rebounds for Arizona, while Rawle Alkins (12) and Dusan Ristic (13) also scored in double figures
The Wildcats led by six at halftime, but the Cougars immediately erased their deficit, scoring six unanswered points to begin the second half, knotting things at 39-39.
The Wildcats quickly took the lead back, but it took a while for them to shake off the Cougars.
Arizona led 50-48 with 12 minutes left, and took an eight-point lead after a pair of jumpers by Trier and Ristic, but the Cougars continued to battle, cutting it back to a 56-53 game with eight minutes left.
But, finally, the Wildcats were able to pull away, using a 9-0 run capped off by an Alkins 3 to take a 65-53 lead with just under six minutes to play.
WSU was never able to get its deficit back within single digits after that.
Still, it was one of the poorest efforts of the season for Arizona’s defense. Washington State entered with the 199th-ranked offense in college basketball, but it managed to shoot 47 percent against the Wildcats, who had several defensive breakdowns in the game, especially in transition.
Conor Clifford led the Cougars with 19 points, while Malachi Flynn and Ike Iroegbu added 12 and 10, respectively.
Arizona’s offense didn’t have many issues, though, as it shot a scorching 57 percent from the field, and 9-20 from 3.
However, it was an ugly start for both sides early on. Not because of turnovers (both teams finished with nine), rather both teams had trouble hitting shots. Arizona and WSU combined to shoot 5-17 in the early going.
Arizona led for 16 minutes in the first half, and started to build some distance after a pair of 3s by Markkanen, which made it a 22-12 Arizona lead with about nine minutes left in the half.
That was Arizona’s largest lead of the first half, though, as WSU battled back and made five shots in a row at one point, and a layup by Josh Hawkinson cut Arizona’s lead 32-28 with just under three minutes left.
Later, Iroegbu hit a contested step-back 3 to trim WSU’s deficit to 34-31, but baskets by Trier and Kadeem Allen and another 3 by Markkanen allowed Arizona to have a 39-33 lead at the break.
Markkanen only took three shots in the first half, but all were 3s and he sank all of them.
As a team, the Wildcats shot 53 percent in the first half and 6-13 from 3, but their defensive effort wasn’t up to par, as Washington State shot 46 percent from the field and 38 percent from 3.
The Cougars were continually giving the ball to Clifford on the low block and having him attack either Ristic or Chance Comanche, and it worked well for WSU, as Clifford had a team-high nine points in the first half.
Final box score
Trier made his first appearance in McKale Center this season (to a standing ovation) but was a little trigger-happy in the first half, taking four 3s (one of which was from NBA distance) and only making one.
But, after switching shoes at halftime, Trier attacked the rim much more aggressively in the second half.
Trier had six points in the first half, but wound up shooting 6-12 from the field and was 3-4 from the free throw line.
Again on display was his improved passing ability, as he dished out a career-high seven assists after having four assists against UCLA on Saturday.
It look as if that part of his game is here to stay.
Pass-first point guard
If there’s any way to describe a pass-first point guard, it would be Parker Jackson-Cartwright in this game.
The junior point guard had five assists and had zero turnovers, but didn’t take a single shot in 17 minutes.
But with all the firepower this Arizona team has now, it’s not really a big deal that Jackson-Cartwright isn’t looking for his shot, especially since he has struggled as a shooter this season anyway.
Comanche mid-range consistency
Comanche finished with eight points, and for the second straight game he connected from mid-range, knocking down two mid-range jumpers against the Cougars.
The big man’s scoring has primarily come on dunks or points in the paint this season, but his increasing ability to knock down shots from 16 feet is a welcomed addition for the Wildcats. We saw similar things from Dusan Ristic, too, who hit a jumper of his own (though he did miss two others).
Lauri hits the Markkanen with his shooting
Markkanen entered Thursday’s game shooting 50 percent from the 3, and his excellence from behind the arc continued against WSU.
The Finn was 5-8 from the field and 4-7 from 3-point land.
Markkanen has been on an absolute tear in Pac-12 play as he’s shooting 25-41 (61 percent) from 3 in eight conference games.
7-footers shouldn’t be able to do that.
You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire