Arizona Basketball

Rivera: Three takeaways from Arizona Wildcats’ victory over ASU

What a game it was. The crowd came dressed in red and Arizona State left blue.

There was a stretch in the first half where Arizona looked like a top 5 team, running and stunning its way to a 24-point lead in the half.

It settled for a 45-25 halftime lead and eventually a 91-75 win over the visiting Sun Devils at McKale Center.

Lauri Markkanen achieved a career-high 30 points against Arizona State (Chris Hook/Arizona Athletics)

“We hare thrilled to be 5-0 in conference play and win a conference game by a 16-point margin,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “There was a lot of good that happened here tonight.”

At no time this season has it been any louder at McKale Center. The students returned. The players were excited and enthused … and played that way.

Here are three observations from Thursday night, one where UA moved to 16-2 overall and 5-0 in conference play.

The Finnisher!

Miller called Lauri Markkanen “spectacular” more than once on Thursday. Heck, he could have used the word a dozen times … maybe 30 times.

“He had 30 points and no turnovers in 30 minutes,” Miller said.

Miller joked maybe he should play him 40 minutes so he could have 40 next week against UCLA.

Whatever works. Markkanen clearly does.

And yet, Markkanen is perhaps one of the most understated stars at the university in the last 25 years. He’s affable and cordial enough but he’s understated and quiet almost to the point to where you wonder if he has a pulse.

Well, he has one. Arizona State found it out on Thursday night. Markkanen scored a career-high 30 points and almost at one point had as many points as ASU (12-11) in the early going.

His play doesn’t match his postgame press conference demeanor. Again, he’s understated. But, …

“He’s all business,” Miller said. “There’s no screwing around with him. It’s about him working hard. He loves the game. He’s here to win and here to become better. He never compromises that ever … in a shoot around, in a practice, in a game it’s all business. He’s unflappable in terms of his demeaner and his effort.”

Miller called him a good kid who is one of the hardest workers he’s ever had. Heck, in fact, in my nearly 30 years on the beat, there’s never been a player like him at Arizona. He offers size, strength, perimeter shooting and inside presence.

“You guys (media) say, I’m all business, but he’s all business there is no messing around,” Miller said. “He came here for a purpose and he’s never comprised and everyone knows it.”

Markkanen got Arizona early with back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers to give UA commanding 29-12 lead.

“Markkanen hit a three on the left side which really got him going,” ASU coach Bobby Hurley said. “He got two more before we could get a timeout.”

By then it was too late. Everything Markkanen had was way too much for the Sun Devils.

“Against zones he such a weapon because he’s 7-foot,” Miller said. “Sometimes the size of the zone can affect 3-point shooters. With him he can shoot over people.”

He did all that and more, finishing with eight rebounds.

“I am just trying to help the team on offense,” he said, again understating his role. “There wasn’t anything different from normal.”

Kadeem does Everything

Markkanen may have been the offensive star for UA but senior Kadeem Allen was clearly the defensive star. He was everywhere. Heck, he looked Gary Payton-like, grabbing four steals and dishing out eight assists. He added a career-high-tying 18 points. He stopped a fast-break all on his own, stealing the ball.

Was it his best game of his career? He couldn’t say because he didn’t know. All he did was play his game, he said.

How about defensively?

“I think I am at my peak right now on defense,” Allen admitted. “I don’t know what it is that makes it so, I just kind of black out when I am on defense and (try) to be everywhere.”

In fact, Miller said he wished he had a handful of Allens on the court. What a luxury that would be. Earlier in the week, Miller said Allen was one of the better defensive guards he’s coached at UA if not as a coach. Thursday he made his coach look good in his performance.

“Kadeem does it every night,” Miller said. “I think he’s one of the best defenders in our conference, if not the nation. One of the many attributes that he has defensively is that he’s versatile. He doesn’t guard just one player. He can guard two or three in the same game. We didn’t necessarily have an answer defensively outside of him for a few stretches.”

What to work on

Every coach likes to look at what needs repair more so than what went right. Miller talked about both equally but he clearly didn’t want to dismiss ASU’s 50 second half points. Way too many, he said, especially after allowing just 25 in the first half.

“We weren’t as ready at the beginning of the second half,” Miller said. “ASU is a really good offensive team; they are hard to defend and they shoot the three really well. We’ll address allowing them to make 10 threes in a half, but I’m very happy with the win.”

ASU went 0 for 9 from beyond the 3-point line in the first half but allowed ASU to shoot 10 for 18 from the 3-point line in the second half. It prevented Arizona from making the game a complete rout but allowed ASU to stay within 20.

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