SALT LAKE CITY – Invited into a fast-paced first-round NCAA Tournament game by North Dakota, the Arizona Wildcats happily obliged.
Arizona scored a season high in points while beating the Fighting Hawks 100-82 on Thursday at Vivint Smart Home Arena, tightening up its sometimes-loose defense just enough to win comfortably.
The Wildcats shot 58.1 percent from the field, hitting 4 of 9 3-pointers and shot 22 of 26 free-throws. UA 7-footer Lauri Markkanen, all but unstoppable to the undersized Hawks, led Arizona with 20 points and six rebounds despite only taking one 3-point shot (and missing it).
Rawle Alkins added another 20 points, five assists and four rebounds while Allonzo Trier added 18 primarily by hitting 7 of 8 free throws. The Wildcats used their size to dominate in rebounding (40-31) and in paint points (54-34).
BOX SCORE: Arizona 100, North Dakota 82
However, North Dakota shot 50 percent from the field in the second half and cut UA’s lead to seven points after halftime before the Wildcats put the game out of reach with a 12-0 run.
The win moved Arizona to 31-4 and into a second-round game with Saint Mary’s (29-4) on Saturday.
North Dakota, champion of the Big Sky Conference, ended its season at 22-10.
The Hawks were led by forward Drick Bernstine, who had 20 points and 15 rebounds. Guard Quinton Hooker had 25 points while making 5 of 8 3-pointers.
Up by 16 at halftime, Arizona’s defense helped the Hawks to make 10 of their first 14 shots in the second half to cut it to just 68-61 with 11:56 left.
But the Wildcats kept the Hawks scoreless over the next four minutes while going on a 10-0 run to take a 78-61 lead. Kadeem Allen keyed the run with a three-point play, two more free throws and a steal of Geno Crandall that he took coast-to-coast for a layup that made it 76-61.
Arizona took a 53-37 halftime lead after shooting 61.1 percent from the field in the first half. Markkanen led UA with 16 points and six rebounds in the half, while Alkins added nine.
North Dakota was led in the first half by Bernstine, who had 12 points and 10 rebounds. The Hawks shot 42.9 percent from the field but made 4 of 7 3-pointers.
Arizona’s defense struggled early, with North Dakota taking a 10-9 lead into the first media timeout when the Hawks made four of their first seven shots. But Arizona went on a 13-1 run to take a 24-13 lead midway through the first half and maintained double-digit leads through the final 6:38 of the half.