Philip Tor | Slump Sports Blogger
SALT LAKE CITY — The Arizona Wildcats did not wait to display their dominance in this tournament. Sean Miller’s team came flying out of the locker room and would not stop running from the moment the ball was tossed up until the final buzzer. The North Dakota Fighting Hawks did their best to try to slow down the high paced Wildcats, but came up short in the end. The champions of the Big Sky Conference were bested by the Pac-12 champions by a score of 100-82.
North Dakota head coach Brian Jones said he was proud of the way his team played the high ranking Arizona Wildcats
“We stayed true to ourself today. We played our style regardless of who we were playing” said Jones “We didn’t flinch, we played to the best of our abilities most of all we stayed true to ourselves.”
North Dakota was simply outmatched by a much younger, talented roster. The Wildcats had five players score more than 10 points, led by Lauri Markanen and Rawle Alkins who each chipped in 20 points. In North Dakota’s defense, it is hard to win games when your opponent does not miss a shot. Arizona shot an astonishing 61% in the first half (22-36) and 58% for the whole game (36-62).
Arizona head coach Sean Miller spoke to the offensive production of his team after the game.
“Offensively we did the job. We only played with 7 turnovers, (North Dakota) is a team that can force turnovers.” said Miller “We had 36 field goals and 32 of them were two-pointers. We utilized our size and played to our strengths.”
Along with the celebration of another great performance, questions about the depth of the Wildcats once again arose after the victory. Miller rarely used his bench in this game, which was close to a blowout until North Dakota cut the lead to 7 with 12 minutes left in the second half. Arizona only played their starting 5 for 25 minutes while only 3 other players saw action for more than 10 minutes. To make a deep run in the tournament a team usually has two things, experience and depth.
These are two things the Wildcats lack on the court, but make up for on the sidelines. Sean Miller is in his eight season and holds plenty of NCAA tournament experience and knowledge to be able to teach his players how to approach this portion of the season. On the court, Arizona is one of the youngest teams in the country led by three underclassmen in Markanen, Alkins, and Allonzo Trier.
Yet it is redshirt senior Kadeem Allen whom Miller says is the key to the Wildcats success.
Kadeem is our heart and soul. He is the only senior on our team. He’s been there start to finish this season as a leader.” said Miller “Unless he’s been injured, he’s played a big part in every single game.”
Allen had another great game against North Dakota to add to a long list of great performances he has had in his career in Tuscon. Allen finished with 10 points, 2 rebounds and 2 steals despite picking up 4 fouls guarding the talented backcourt of North Dakota.
After the game Allen said it was the freshman who stepped up and helped the Wildcats win the game,
“It’s our freshman who have been our rock all year and they showed that tonight and also what they are capable of.”said Allen “All year we’ve been playing team basketball and guys just keep stepping up. It’s win or go home and no one wants to go home.”
Arizona will now move onto the round of 32 where they will meet St. Mary’s College Gaels, a seven seed who outlasted Virginia Commonwealth University in their first matchup.