There are some things that are rarely — if ever — seen in Tucson.
Rain, Rose Bowls, and the Arizona Wildcats losing in McKale Center, to name a few.
You can probably add ‘Lauri Markkanen airballing a shot’ to that list, as well, though Wednesday it happened not once, but twice in Arizona’s 74-67 win over Stanford.
The sharpshooting 7-footer shot 2-of-9 from the field, with two of those misses failing to draw even the slightest bit of iron. He also missed his first two free throw attempts, another rarity for the big man who is shooting over 80 percent from the charity stripe.
“Tonight was the first time I felt his confidence was a little shaken,” UA head coach Sean Miller said after the game.
Markkanen’s outing against the Cardinal was the pinnacle of what has been a rough week and a half for him. In his last three games, the Finn is 4-of-20 from the field and 3-of-13 from 3, failing to reach double figures in all three games.
Before that, Markkanen had only failed to reach double figures once in Arizona’s first 22 games. He has had games or two where his production dipped, but not three in a row.
“He’ll get better through this,” Miller said of Markkanen’s struggles. “Certainly he’s affected right now. When you saw him shoot free throws, those two (he missed), you can tell it’s bothering him a little bit. But I have no doubt he’s gonna snap out of it. He’s too good of a player and his work ethic is too good, and we have to help him. Our coaching staff has to help him. We have to help him and we have to be able to get him the ball. One time when they’re in the man-to-man we finally were able to get it to him in the low post and we had a size advantage and he got fouled. We have to do that more often, and I think he will adjust to how teams are playing him and so will we.”
While Markkanen’s shot has been off lately, so has his rebounding ability, which is even more concerning for Miller.
“I think his shooting affected his aggressiveness and we have to get him back because we’re a much better team when he rebounds the ball,” Miller said.
The 7-footer has tracked down just three rebounds in each of the last two games.
“Lauri’s gonna get out of it, but he has also be able to do some the other things,” Miller said. “We played him 28 minutes and he had two defensive rebounds. He’s 7 feet. You have to be able to get the ball. You can’t play 28 minutes and (have) total three rebounds. He has shown that he can rebound the ball. Him rebounding on Saturday has to happen. (If) he can rebound 10 rebounds a game and then get a couple of second shots, it’s amazing how you get your confidence back.”
Markkanen showed signs of breaking out of his slump down the stretch of Arizona’s win over Stanford.
With the game knotted at 67-67, he drilled a corner 3 to put Arizona up for good with under two minutes left. Teammate Rawle Alkins said it was the biggest play of the game.
"Making that 3 down the stretch from the left corner was big,” Miller said. “Both for tonight’s win and also for his confidence.”
Markkanen was as consistent as one could possibly expect for a freshman in the first 22 games of the season, but he has hit rough stretch since then.
It’s not the proverbial “freshman wall” that Markkanen is up against — as Miller has said he doesn’t believe in that — rather, it’s a product of Markkanen being, well, human.
“It happens,” said teammate Allonzo Trier. “I don’t know any player that hasn’t had a streak where they haven’t shot the ball great.
“I think because he’s shot it so well, when he doesn’t shoot it spectacular, you guys act like it’s the end of the world, but it’s not. That’s not to say that Saturday he doesn’t come out and have a big game or he gets on a big run here and makes a bunch in a row.
“He’ll be just fine, there should be no worries.”
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