Rebounds could be key when Arizona meets Saint Mary's
SALT LAKE CITY -- Arizona is reaching its full potential on offense at just the right time.
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The second-seeded Wildcats (31-4) eclipsed the 100-point plateau for just the third time in their NCAA Tournament Division I history on Thursday. Over the course of 40 minutes in a 100-82 win over 15th-seeded North Dakota, Arizona amassed 54 points in the paint, shot 58.1 percent from the field and had five players score in double figures.
The Wildcats will aim to duplicate that success Saturday when they face seventh-seeded Saint Mary's (29-4) in a West Region second-round game.
Freshmen Lauri Markkanen and Rawle Alkins led Arizona on Thursday with 20 points apiece. The offense raced at blinding speeds, in part because the Wildcats did a good job of sharing the ball and getting multiple players involved.
"I credit my teammates," Markkanen said. "They did a good finding me in the offense. I didn't have to create my own shots, so that helped a lot."
One concern for the Wildcats came on defense. North Dakota wanted to play a faster tempo and push the ball up the court. It opened the door for the Fighting Hawks to get some easy baskets and whittle Arizona's lead.
The Wildcats eventually proved able to counteract it by getting stops and corralling just enough rebounds to deny North Dakota valuable second chance scoring opportunities. Arizona finished with a 40-31 advantage on the glass.
"We utilized our size," Arizona coach Sean Miller said. "That's important, in a game like tonight, to play to your strengths."
Rebounding and defense will take on greater importance against Saint Mary's. The Gaels have no trouble imposing a deliberate tempo on opponents and grinding them into submission.
Saint Mary's (29-4) ranks in the top five nationally in both rebounding margin and scoring defense. On the other end, the Gaels are efficient shooters and patient in finding the right shots.
That formula helped Saint Mary's outlast 10th-seeded VCU for an 85-77 victory in its NCAA Tournament opener on Thursday. The Gaels shot 55.6 percent from the field and had 13 assists on 25 baskets. They got to the free-throw line 39 times and made 29 -- three more than the Rams attempted.
On defense, Saint Mary's held VCU to just 15.4 percent shooting from the perimeter.
Jock Landale shined on both ends of the court for the Gaels. The junior center finished with 18 points and 13 rebounds for his 16th double-double of the season.
"I thought we did a really good job of handling their pressure," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "They just kept coming. They're quick. They're aggressive. We had to hang onto the ball and make free throws and try to execute against a change in defenses."
This is the seventh all-time meeting between Arizona and Saint Mary's. The Wildcats lead the series 4-2 and have won three straight over the Gaels dating back to 2000.
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