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NCAA Tournament: Lauri Markkanen leads Arizona to win vs. Saint Mary’s

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Arizona’s Finn-isher sends Cats to the Sweet 16

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Arizona vs Saint Mary's Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

16 points, 11 rebounds, 50 FG%, 9/10 FT, 2 blocks, 1 steal

The Arizona Wildcats needed every bit of Lauri Markkanen’s scoring this season. However, on Saturday night, it was his defense, rebounding, and composure that allowed Arizona to grind out a close victory over a Saint Mary’s squad that gave the Cats all they could handle for 40 minutes.


Getting to the stripe

Arizona came out sluggish to say the least. Through the first 15 minutes of the game, the Wildcats had no assists, threes, or points in transition. Arizona definitely “lost some of their confidence” in the first half as head coach Sean Miller pointed out.

Facing their largest deficit of the game and in the midst of a five minute scoring drought, Markkanen shot six free throws and made five of them over the final five minutes of the half to help Arizona head into the locker room trailing by only one.

The nine of ten free throws made by Markkanen helped Arizona not only in the scoring column but forced the Gaels to commit nearly ten fouls on him. The fouls caused by Markkanen played a big role in disrupting the nice flow Saint Mary’s had established while coming out firing to start the game.


Post defense

Lauri stepped up to the challenge of guarding the Gaels’ best player, Jock Landale, when Dusan Ristic got into foul trouble. After making his first five shots, Landale finished the game making only three of this next nine.

Landale is one of the most highly skilled big men in the country, but Markkanen was often able to use his length to disrupt the Australian big man just enough to force him into some difficult shots. His block on the Gaels’ big man with three minutes to go was the nail in the coffin.


Windex

Lauri Markkanen’s biggest contribution was his team-high 11 rebounds. It has been a month since Lauri Markkanen grabbed more than ten boards (13 at Washington on Feb 18th), and against the Gaels, he matched Landale’s 11 rebounds to help the Wildcats win the rebounding margin (32-30). Through the first 15 minutes, Markkanen had only attempted one shot and had two points, but pulled down five rebounds and his ability to help Arizona limit SMC’s second possessions was crucial.

The best players find ways to infuse themselves into the game when their offense isn’t flowing. Markkanen certainly made his presence felt in all phases of the game on Saturday and used the intangibles help build his confidence and the confidence of the entire team over the course of the game while having perhaps his most complete effort in an Arizona uniform.