Arizona big man Lauri Markkanen is going to be a top-10 pick in June’s NBA draft. The freshman from Finland just turned one of the greatest shooting seasons college basketball has ever seen from a 7-footer. He’s one of the most unique weapons in the sport, and a big reason why Arizona found itself in the Sweet 16 on Thursday night against Xavier.
Unfortunately for Arizona, it decided to abandon Markkanen when it needed him most. Markkanen did not attempt a shot in the last 11 minutes of the second half as 11th-seeded Xavier pulled off an improbable 73-71 upset of the second-seeded Wildcats.
Markkanen played all 40 minutes on Thursday and finished with nine points on 3-of-9 shooting from the field. His three ball was off the entire night, finishing only 1-of-6 from deep.
Still: this is a player who averages 15.6 points per game on 42 percent three-point shooting. He’s also a matchup nightmare at 7-foot with the ability to shoot over any defender. Instead of using Markkanen as a pick-and-pop ace, Arizona let its guards dictate the end of the game.
To be fair, teammate Alonzo Trier had it going
The sophomore guard scored 19 points and just rimmed out a three-pointer that would have advanced the Wildcats to the Elite 8. Trier scored seven unanswered points in crunch time to give Arizona a 64-61 lead with just over five minutes left.
It would have been wise for Trier to look for Markkanen, though. While the sophomore guard shot 6-of-11 in the second half, he was just 8-of-19 from the field overall.
But other guys also got touches before Markkanen
While Markkanen stood idly for the game’s final 11 minutes, every other player on the floor took at least one shot.
Trier put up eight of them and made five. But Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Dusan Ristic each took and missed a shot. Kadeem Allen scored five points down the stretch but missed a game-tying layup in the final 30 seconds.
In the game’s final minute, both Allen and Ristic missed game-tying two-point jump shots.
Markkanen’s been frozen out of the game plan before.
The talented freshman has taken fewer than 10 shots 16 times this season. He only got six clean looks in Arizona’s second round win over Saint Mary’s, but converting on nine-of-10 free throw attempts gave his numbers a boost.
You just wouldn’t expect the team to go away from its versatile scorer for such a long period of time. Not in a decisive Sweet 16 game against an underdog Xavier team.
Markkanen also allowed the game-winning bucket
Markkanen on the defensive end is about the NBA equivalent to Ryan Anderson. He’s not a defensive plus by any means, but that’s the price you pay for 7-foot sniper. Still, history shows it’s hard to keep a player engaged defensively if he’s not involved on offense.
Markkanen got sealed on the Musketeers’ game-winning play.
Xavier big man Sean O’Mara sealed Markkanen out and had incredible position for an open layup. O’Mara only averages six points for the Musketeers this season. Even he got a look at the rim.
This will be Markkanen’s last game as a college player. It’s not the way he wanted to go out. Arizona will again have a stacked team next year led by the No. 1 recruit in the country, center DeAndre Ayton.
Perhaps this will be a lesson the Wildcats can use going forward: when you have a unique big man at your disposal, don’t forget about him in crunch time.