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Arizona basketball: Lauri Markkanen’s struggles not due to lack of confidence

Sean Miller says the Wildcats simply need to do a better job of putting the 7-footer in better positions to score

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

Lauri Markkanen has a knack for staying even-keeled even if his shots aren’t falling or calls aren’t going his way.

But look closely and you can occasionally see signs of frustration.

“You can see it here or there,” teammate Chance Comanche said. “He might drop his head for half a second, or you can see it in his facial expression.”

Lately it has been happening more than usual. Markkanen is in the midst of a four-game stretch in which he has failed to reach double figures in the scoring column.

The usually-sharp shooter is 5-of-25 from the field during that span.

“I just talk to him to make sure his head is in the right place, make sure that he stays locked in and focused because I told him that every game is not going to be your game,” said Comanche, who said he is “super close” with Markkanen. “But even if it’s not, you have to do the best you can in the moment and take advantage of the next one when it comes around.

“He understands what I’m saying and he agrees with me. Lauri’s a tough guy, a tough kid, who has that mindset. He gets on himself more than coaches and players do, so you just have to keep his mind in the right place.”

Head coach Sean Miller said Wednesday after Arizona’s win over Stanford that he thought Markkanen’s confidence was “shaken” for the first time this season after the 7-footer scored eight points on 2-of-9 shooting.

A game later, Markkanen had six points on 1-of-5 shooting against Cal.

“He had a tough night,” Miller said.

However, Miller does not think it’s Markkanen’s confidence — or lack thereof — that has led to his downturn.

Instead, as Miller said last week and repeated again on Monday, Markkanen needs to be put in better spots to score.

“I look at it as him getting good opportunities,” Miller said. “If he gets good opportunities, he’ll score or get fouled. It’s up to us, and me, and our coaches to give him better opportunities.”

Finding open looks for Markkanen has been a difficult endeavor, though. Opposing teams have adjusted their gameplans, switching on screens and sticking to Markkanen on the perimeter more than ever, taking away his perimeter game.

To counter, Miller is focusing on getting Markkanen the ball closer to the rim.

“That’s what we’re talking about — taking advantage of his size, his mismatches, and allowing him to get second shots, get fouled,” Miller said. “He was well on his way to doing that against Cal, he just got in really early foul trouble.”

Miller used a drive Markkanen had in the first half against Cal as an example.

“He had a great drive early against (Ivan) Rabb and got fouled on the play,” Miller said. “It wasn’t called and [Markkanen] reacted by trying to offensive rebound his own miss and he fouled and they called that one.

“Sometimes it happens, but it was strong drive. …We want that out of him.”

Yet, those types of plays have been few and far in between for Markkanen as 16 of his last 25 shots have been taken from beyond the arc. Miller would like to see more balance.

“A physical drive, offensive rebounding, physical post-ups, mixing that in with what he does really naturally — shooting — that’s going to bring out the best in our team,” he said.

“If we can keep him out of foul trouble, I think we’re going to see that in the near future.”

You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire