Arizona Football

Marked-man Markkanen: Arizona needs to get freshman more looks

At the foul line or from the field, Lauri Markkanen needs to shoot a lot. (Photo courtesy Chris Hook/Arizona Athletics)

Here it is in black-and-white: Lauri Markkanen made 2 of 11 shots from the field on the Oregon road trip.

I don’t believe it, even as I’m typing it. That’s crazy. Just 2 of 11?

This is in no way intended to single him out. Arizona collectively — how should we put this? — wasn’t quite at its best for three-fourths of that road trip. The Wildcats had to rally in the second half to put away outmanned Oregon State and then … well, you know what happened at Oregon on Saturday.

For Markkanen, neither the 2, nor the 11, is a big enough number.

So, the 7-foot freshman phenom is human after all.

“I don’t think Lauri got enough good looks in either game,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said Monday.

“I credit both Oregon State and Oregon for doing a real good job of knowing where he’s at, challenging his shots, making it more difficult for him to get the ball in the scoring area. We have to do a better job as a team and a coaching staff of being able to free him up as best we can and give him good looks.”

Markkanen is a unique creature — a well-built, 7-footer who shoots the 3-pointer at a 48.7 percent clip (55 of 113), ranking second on Arizona’s career list. But there still is a significant way to go this season, including seven regular-season games, starting with Wednesday’s game against Stanford at McKale Center.

Markkanen’s 3-point accuracy will rise or fall, but Miller seems focused more than ever to make sure that’s not all there is to the freshman’s offense.

“The other part with Lauri is, especially against zones, being able to use his size a little bit more around the basket, where he can get more second shots, more 2-point shots, where he’s not just relying on a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer,” Miller said.

“He’s way more versatile than that. But being able to get him the ball requires teamwork and requires guards being able to get it to him, and strategically, as a coach, we have to put him in a better position to get the ball around the basket more.

“No matter how great a shooter you are, if you’re only relying on perimeter jump shots, there are going to be those games where they take that away from you.”

The Oregon trip marked Markkanen’s worst back-to-back games. He had only one single-digit scoring effort before then. It happens. Miller said he had a talk with Markkanen on the flight home, reassured that he is in a fine place emotionally because of an even-keel demeanor.

“That’s his gift. That’s his strength,” Miller said.

“He’s the same every day. Doesn’t get too high, doesn’t get too low. You don’t get wrecked by having a bad game. The answer is to get back in the gym, back in the weight room, watching some film, learning and being that much more ready for the next opponent.”

In that sense, mission accomplished.

Point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright said Markkanen made a beeline to the Richard Jefferson Gymnasium as soon as the team returned to Tucson.

“Just got a bunch of shots up,” Jackson-Cartwright said.

In theory, the return of guard Allonzo Trier five games ago from NCAA suspension should benefit Markkanen, because the defense has to focus on two excellent scorers. That pick-your-poison scenario for the defense hasn’t fully materialized yet, with Markkanen’s shot attempts dropped by 3.2 per game in the past five games.

One of the best parts of Markkanen’s game is that he almost never forces the issue, rarely takes a “bad” shot. It might be OK, though, if he went on the hunt for a few more opportunities to launch.

“Lauri is one of the most unselfish players on our team,” Jackson-Cartwright said.

“Teams are trying to take him away and we understand that. They are really staying with him. … He’s not discouraged and we have the ultimate confidence in him. We know he is going to bounce back quickly.”

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