TEMPE, Ariz. — After a whirlwind of a regular season, filled with everything from season-ending injuries to indefinite suspensions, the Arizona Wildcats are going to relish their share of the Pac-12 title while they can.
“We just won the Pac-12 Conference, so that’s special,” Rawle Alkins said. “We did something that Arizona is used to doing, but it’s not easy. We did something that was really hard and I don’t think people realize how hard it is. It’s a special moment for us.”
Arizona outscored ASU 43-31 in the second half en rout to a 73-60 victory over the Sun Devils on Saturday, finishing the regular season at 27-4 overall and 16-2 in the Pac-12 conference, tied with the Oregon Ducks atop the conference standings.
Here are three things we learned in that game:
Rawle Alkins and Keanu Pinder were Arizona’s two “stars”
Arizona had an absurd rebounding advantage (50-27) in its win over ASU, and it helps when a guard is accounting for nearly one-third of the team’s rebounds.
Freshman guard Rawle Alkins tracked down a career-high 15 rebounds while tallying 11 points in just 26 minutes.
“If you’re Rawle, and you get 15 rebounds in a college game like this, I think that says a lot about him,” Miller said.
For Alkins, it says that he is capable of dominating a game in several ways.
“I think my biggest attribute is not being one-dimensional,” Alkins said. “Guys usually have that role where he’s a shooter or he’s defender. I want to be known as the all-around player that can do it all.
“I think about making the right plays, making the right decisions. I don’t come into the game thinking ‘I’m going to get 20 tonight.’ Sometimes it just happens … I don’t want to be known as a one-dimensional player. I want to be known as a guy that can do it all, can do a lot of everything.”
Another key in Arizona’s win over ASU was its defense and ability to match ASU’s small lineups.
Keanu Pinder had a major role in that, and was rewarded with the most playing time he’s seen all year, getting 25 minutes against the Sun Devils.
“Keanu Pinder and Rawle Alkins were two stars for us,” Miller said.
“Keanu, we’ve learned the last couple weeks that he has to be part of what we do because I think he complements what we have really well and you saw that here tonight,” Miller said. “He’s physical, he’s quicker, and he gives us that element defensively that we’re looking for. He did a very good job and that’s part of why we were able to match up with them.”
Arizona outscored ASU by 18 when Pinder was on the floor.
“Keanu is always going to give us great things,” Allonzo Trier said. “He’s going to come in and give us effort, he’s gonna rebound, he’s gonna defend. Anytime he’s on the floor it’s a good thing for us.”
Miller still not worried about Markkanen’s shot, the 7-footer is improving in other areas
Lauri Markkanen is 1 for 15 from 3 in the last five games, and went 0 for 5 from 3 against ASU, including two airballs, yet Miller remans adamant that he is not worried about the 7-footer’s jumper.
“His 3-point shot didn’t go down, but I’m really not concerned,” he said. “I know it’s been four weeks or so since he’s hit on all cylinders, but that’s going to come back around. What’s really pleasing for us is to see him rebound and score around the basket.”
Markkanen, despite being marred by early foul trouble that limited him to only a few minutes in the first half, grabbed nine rebounds and scored three times in the paint. He also had three monstrous blocks, which Trier said shifted the momentum of the game, as it changed the way ASU attacked the rim.
“It gave us a big spark,” Trier said. “They had a few easy layups at the rim and then Lauri kind of changed it.”
Miller said Markkanen is learning how to better utilize his 7-foot frame around the basket, which will help him be a better offensive rebounder and shot blocker.
Markkanen had just 12 blocks in 30 games before swatting three shots in Saturday’s win.
“All of a sudden the switch went on for him and he started to block shots,” Miller said. “We’ve talked to him a lot about that but you have to realize coming from FIBA basketball to college basketball, there’s always an adjustment. I think there’s somethings that he has an advantage, and then there’s others that maybe he’s at a disadvantage.”
Most importantly, Markkanen is continuing to make an impact even though his shot has been off for what seems like an eternity now.
“Guys go crazy when he doesn’t score the ball well or make shots, but there’s so much more to him than just scoring,” Alkins said.
Markkanen is Arizona’s leading rebounder, averaging 7.5 rebounds per game.
Wildcats correct rebounding and zone offense woes
When Arizona lost at home to UCLA last weekend, Miller attributed his team’s defeat to two things — its poor zone offense and an inability to defensive rebound at a high percentage.
Neither of those things were a problem against ASU.
As mentioned earlier, Arizona outrebounded a small ASU team 50-27, and the Sun Devils were only able to grab three offensive rebounds.
“That was a big part of our plan, especially after our game against UCLA,” Alkins said.
What changed for Arizona?
“Coach Miller stressed rebounding all through practice and if you can’t rebound, you can’t win,” Alkins said. “That’s something that sticks with us.”
Added Trier, “We talk about ‘do your job’ so all five guys on the court do your job, block out, rebound the ball, and do what we’re supposed to do and it takes care of itself.”
And what about the team’s zone offense? Arizona only shot 39 percent against ASU, but many of UA’s misses were open looks that simply didn’t fall.
In other words, the Wildcats don’t think their zone offense is a problem.
“Did we? I don’t know I didn’t feel that way,” Trier said when asked why the team struggled against ASU’s zone at times. “I guess if you look at our points per possession … we’ll see.
“In the last few games our points per possession have been over a point per possession against the zone, so I think that’s a pretty good job.”
Even against UCLA, Miller noted that Arizona scored 31 points on 29 possessions against UCLA’s zone, which “is good.”
“I think people read into it a little too much,” Trier said of Arizona’s perceived zone problems.
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