SALT LAKE CITY — Freshman Lauri Markkanen scored 20 points as second-seeded Arizona cruised to a 100-82 victory over No. 15 North Dakota on Thursday night in the first round of the NCAA’s West Regional.
Arizona used a 13-1 run early in the first half to take 24-13 lead and never looked back. The Wildcats (31-4) lead 53-37 at halftime thanks to a dominant 16-point half from Markkanen and a 61.1 shooting percentage in the first 20 minutes.
The Wildcats will face seventh-seeded Saint Mary’s in the second round on Saturday. The Gaels beat VCU 85-77.
It was almost as if Arizona’s players were taking turns scoring. Allonzo Trier continued his late-season success and had a highlight tomahawk dunk to push the lead to 44-27. He finished with 18 points.
Rawle Alkins was aggressive early and scored 20 while Dusan Ristic started hot in the second half and added 12. Chance Comanche (Choctaw/Comanche) pulled down 7 rebounds and added 6 points in 19 minutes of play for the Wildcats
Markkanen, who’s expected to be a high first-round NBA draft pick, was a constant as North Dakota couldn’t match his size (7-foot, 230 pounds) or skill.
Quinton Hooker led the Fighting Hawks (22-10) with 25 points and Drick Bernstine added 20.
North Dakota played with energy throughout and never quit, but was simply overmatched. Arizona was bigger and outscored the Fighting Hawks 54-34 in the paint. North Dakota never seemed to be able to get easy baskets.
North Dakota: The Fighting Hawks were playing with house money in their first NCAA Tournament appearance as a Division I program. They joined Division I full time in 2012-13. North Dakota played hard, but just didn’t have the athletes to hang with the Pac-12 champs.
Arizona: The Wildcats did exactly what they were supposed to do, outside of taking their foot off the gas in the second half. This is a team that won the Pac-12 regular season and tournament and has Final Four aspirations. Arizona has advanced to the Elite Eight three times under coach Sean Miller.
OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND
The 2016 tournament was a disappointment for Arizona as the Wildcats were bounced in the first round. The program hadn’t lost in the first round since 2008, though it missed the tournament in 2010 and 2012. A strong start is good for the psyche.
Arizona will face No. 7 seed Saint Mary’s (29-4) in the second round on Saturday.