Rushed Reactions: #2 Arizona 69, #7 Saint Mary’s 60

Posted by RJ Abeytia on March 18th, 2017

Arizona endured Saint Mary’s deliberate pace as well as their incredible discipline to advance to the West Region semifinals next weekend in San Jose.  Ultimately, a strong second half on both ends of the floor sent the Wildcats to Sweet Sixteen.

Arizona Was All Smiles After a Tough R32 Win Over St. Mary’s (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Arizona can win in many different ways. After scoring 100 points in their opening round game, Arizona conceded the pace to Saint Mary’s and beat the Gaels at their own half-court game. The Wildcats pounded the ball inside relentlessly, relied on their superior athleticism on the wing, and then finally rode Lauri Markkanen to the winner’s circle.
  2. Saint Mary’s fell out of character just enough to be vulnerable. The Gaels had stretches, especially in the first half, when they looked to be in vintage form. They used their usual array of ball screens, precise spacing and exquisite ball movement to produce some gorgeous baskets. But their 5-of-21 performance from beyond the arc and inability to stop Arizona in the second half (the Wildcats shot 59 percent with an Offensive Rating of 114.3) was too much to overcome.
  3. The Dusan Ristic Experience Returns. Ristic was an important contributor for the Wildcats during the first half of Pac-12 play, but he took a step back as Chance Comanche and Keanu Pinder emerged. Tonight he again played a starring role as part of the clear Wildcat game plan to pound the post all game long. Ristic scored 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting and really helped Arizona fully exploit the size and depth they had. Long NCAA Tournament runs always feature contributions from unexpected sources, and Ristic’s performance was an example of what it’s going to take to get Arizona through the next weekend of NCAA Tournament play.

Star of the Game. Lauri Markkanen, Arizona. After taking some lessons from Saint Mary’s senior standout Jock Landale, Markkanen carried the Wildcats on both ends of the floor down the stretch. He stood tall in defending Landale, and he scored from all over the court like no other college basketball player quite can. He scored 16 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, and had huge blocks on both Landale as well as a game-sealer on Joe Rahon. It’s not like his draft stock was low headed into this week, but Markkanen is skyrocketing up draft boards after two very strong outings under pressure in Salt Lake City.  

Quotable. The lead-up to the game was pretty much a dual praise-off for Randy Bennett and Sean Miller that continued today.

  • Of the Gaels, Miller said: “Not until you play them do you realize how physical they are, how good they are. I look at this as one of our best wins we’ve had in the Tournament because of how good they are.”
  • Miller also credited the seven straight points from Allonzo Trier starting at the 11:36 mark of the second half as “the turning point in the game.”
  • Arizona held the sharpshooting Gaels to 5-of-21 shooting from the three-point line, and Miller had an interesting take on one of the keys in that defensive effort, saying “North Dakota really prepared us for tonight. A team like that who moves the ball, your margin for error is thin. We worked on it really hard the last couple of days.”
  • Offensively, Miller said, “Our advantage was driving and getting the ball into the post.” The Wildcats actually lost the paint battle by eight points, but add the 19 free throws Arizona earned by driving and pounding the post, and Miller’s point is very well taken.

Sights and Sounds: Some Arizona officials conceded before the game that many Wildcat fans chose not to travel to Salt Lake City on the heels of their big annual showing in Las Vegas. Expect the full throng of support to show up in San Jose, however, where Arizona will be traveling for the Sweet Sixteen.

What’s Next. Arizona moves on to San Jose to face surging #11 Xavier. The Musketeers shouldn’t be discounted in this game, but there is no question that Arizona has a path of lesser resistance than a Gonzaga team that draws the Mountaineers in the other half of the bracket. After all the debate about seeding, it’s funny how that worked out for the Wildcats.

Richard Abeytia (41 Posts)

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