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Arizona basketball: Three things we learned in the Wildcats’ win over Washington State

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Lauri Markkanen’s slump is over, and is Parker Jackson-Cartwright better as a starter?

NCAA Basketball: Arizona at UCLA Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats picked up their first blowout win in quite some time Thursday night against Washington State as the fifth-ranked Wildcats cruised to a 19-point win over the Cougars in Pullman.

The victory improves Arizona’s record to 24-3 overall and 13-1 in the Pac-12, good enough to keep them atop the conference standings.

The Wildcats will travel to Seattle to face Washington on Saturday night, but before we get to that game, here are a few things we learned about Arizona in its win against WSU:

The slump is over

Lauri Markkanen’s four-game slump has abruptly come to an end.

The 7-footer failed to score in double figures four games in a row heading into Thursday’s game, but that streak was snapped.

In a big way.

Markkanen poured in 19 points, as he shot 7-of-13 from the field and 4-of-4 from the free throw line.

“Lauri has been off the map a little bit recently and, to his credit, you get back by what you do everyday, not this magic wand that the next game comes and I’m going to be fine,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller told FOX Sports 1 after the game. “His process has been great. ... I thought he really came into the game with the right mentality.”

Markkanen also grabbed 11 rebounds, six of which were of the offensive variety, allowing him to score in the paint, which is what the Wildcats would like to see more of.

“We’ve worked with him on that. We’ve talked a lot about it,” Miller said. “We’ve changed a few things with our scheme to help him, but he has to help himself. Him having the game that he had with six offensive rebounds … he used his size tonight in a big way.

“That’s a great sign for him and our team, because everybody knows how he can shoot the 3. It’s a matter of can he punish smaller people and big guys around the basket? We’ve seen him get better in that area. Tonight he put it all together.”

It was Markkanen’s highest point total since he scored 23 points in Arizona’s win at USC on Jan. 23, nearly a calendar month ago.

“That’s coming just from practice,” Markkanen said of his game vs. WSU. “A lot of teams are switching ball screens. They want me closer to the basket, but we’re not changing too much.”

Jackson-Cartwright rose to the challenge ... and might be better as a starter?

With Kadeem Allen missing Thursday’s game with a dislocated pinky, Parker Jackson-Cartwright was given his first start since Nov. 30 — and he made it count.

The junior point guard dropped a career-high 20 points, shooting 5-of-7 from the field and 4-of-5 from the 3-point line.

“Before the trip, coach challenged me to rise up, and be more of a leader,” he said. “Be more, just do more. Be more assertive and just lead my teammates. Some guys have never played up here (in Pullman).”

Miller said earlier in the week that Jackson-Cartwright would stay put on the bench, but that was before Allen’s injury.

And maybe it was not a coincidence that Jackson-Cartwright had the best game of his career when he was in the starting lineup.

In this season alone, the junior is faring far better when in Arizona’s starting five.

In the seven games Jackson-Cartwright has started (not counting the Texas Southern game), he is averaging 10.6 points and 5.6 assists per game.

For the season, he is averaging just 5.3 points and 4.6 assists per game.

That does not mean Jackson-Cartwright should start over Allen — Allen’s defensive ability is needed — but maybe starting the two alongside each other would be a feasible option.

After all, Arizona’s offense had one of its best offensive outputs in recent memory on Thursday with Jackson-Cartwright running the show for 35 minutes.

Arizona continues to be resilient

Adversity has been shadowing Arizona all season. Heck, even before the season started.

The latest unfortunate events were the injuries to Allen and Dusan Ristic, pushing Arizona back down to seven healthy scholarship players (does that sound familiar?) against Washington State.

Even still, the Wildcats turned in a stellar performance against the Cougars, and mainly because other players stepped up, namely Jackson-Cartwright, Markkanen, and Chance Comanche, who had eight points and five rebounds in 23 minutes.

The Wildcats’ exposure to adversity seems ever-lasting, but so is their ability to fight through it. And you can’t help but wonder how that will eventually pay off for them in the end.

“I’ve never been a part of a team — player, assistant coach, head coach, — that’s been through more than we have. I’m pretty sure it will continue until the very, very end.” Miller said.

“But I’ve also never been a part of a group that has been as resilient, tough-minded, a kind of find-a-way group that we’ve become, that we became a long time ago. I mean, we wouldn’t have the record that we have if we didn’t have numerous times where players stepped up, whether it be in big moments or a guy like Parker tonight. When Kadeem’s out, he responds with a career-high.

“I think that’s a good sign. Hopefully we can be at full strength for a period of time, and Saturday will be here before you know it.”

Ristic and Allen are questionable for Saturday’s game at Washington.


You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire